SPOT THE SAFETY VIOLATION: Metal Ladders & Power Lines Are a Bad Combination

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Is this the right kind of ladder for this job—especially given the weather conditions?

Click for the answer

Certain things in a workplace just don’t mix well safety-wise. For example, flammable materials should be kept far away from sources of sparks or fire. And generally nothing made of metal should be used near electrical sources, particularly high voltage electrical equipment.

So in this picture, the worker’s choice of a metal extension ladder to access a pole attached to and near many overhead power lines was a very bad one. And to make matters worse, it’s raining out—and water is yet another substance that conducts electricity well, making his situation even more precarious.

What can happen when workers use metal ladders around overhead power lines? Nothing good:

  • In New Brunswick, a 22-year-old roofer and a co-worker finished installing shingles on a roof and were taking down an aluminum ladder. While his co-worker was holding the base down with his feet, the roofer stood under the ladder and pushed the top out so it was vertical. He then turned the ladder 90 degrees and began walking backwards to lower it to the ground. He contacted a 7,200-volt overhead electrical line and was electrocuted, dying immediately.
  • In Québec, another young roofer was killed when the aluminum ladder he moved touched an overhead power line. The CSST found fault in the planning of the work around power lines and ordered the employer to develop safe work practices for such work.

To protect your workers from such tragedies, prohibit them from using metal or wire-reinforced ladders anywhere near overhead power lines. In fact, the OHS laws may bar the use of such ladders closer than minimum safe distances to power lines.

Here are some additional general precautions from the Explanation Guide to Part 17 of Alberta’s OHS Code 2009 that workers should take when working near overhead power lines:

1. Equipment operators and other workers must respect the safe minimum distances and always be aware of the position of their equipment in relation to overhead power lines.

2. The signaller’s only responsibility should be to ensure equipment doesn’t get any closer to the power line than the designated safe minimum distance.

3. No one should be allowed to touch any part of equipment or its load until the signaller indicates it’s safe to do so.

4. Other workers not directly involved in the work being performed should be kept away from the equipment while it’s being used near overhead power lines.

5. Ensure that equipment operators and signallers know that a long span of power line can rise and fall depending on the ambient temperature and swing in the wind, all of which can impact the safe work distance.

6. Don’t ground equipment in the area of a power line.

7. Mark out the route that a crane or similar equipment will follow before it’s moved, noting any uneven terrain that could increase the likelihood of contact with the power line.

8. When using tag lines to control an elevated load, the tag lines should be made of a non-conducting material such as dry rope.

More resources on safe portable ladder use: