Unsafe scaffolding around powerlines puts workers and the public at risk of severe injury or death. Extreme care needs to be taken when erecting scaffolding close to powerlines, which is why there is a lot of information available about what to consider before starting work.
Working less than half a meter (0.5m) from powerlines
If the electricity supply from a powerline is less than half a meter (0.5m) from a worker, tools or equipment (including scaffolding), then it must be disconnected. This is to ensure that the powerlines are not live when workers are very close and at risk of electric shock. Having tools or equipment within half a meter (0.5m) of the powerlines also puts workers, and potentially the public, at risk.
Working between half a meter (0.5m) and four meters (4m) from powerlines
You must always get consent from a competent person (someone qualified to assess the risk) when working between half a meter (0.5m) and four meters (4m) from a live low voltage overhead powerline. It is strongly recommended that the consent is documented in case it needs to be referred to. Completing a Close Approach Consent Form is a way of getting that written consent for the work.
Consent for working near overhead lines is just one consideration. Make sure that you read the information available, and assess all the risks and controls before starting work.
Working more than four meters (4m) from powerlines
If workers and all equipment are going to be more than four meters (4m) from the powerlines, consent is not required. As powerlines are still in the area (and active) a risk assessment should still be carried out, with controls put in place.
Assess the risks
We've covered the following key points in regards to working distance from powerlines:
Less than half a meter (0.5m): the electricity supply to the property must be disconnected (turned off) before work can start.
Between half a meter (0.5m) and four meters (4m): written consent must be gained from a competent person that can assess the risk before work can start.
More than four meters (4m): no consent needed, but risk assessment and control measures recommended before work starts.
Risk assessments will help you determine what control measures are needed to keep workers safe. Due to the high risks of working near lines, all PCBUs should also consider these controls, regardless of distance. Possible controls include, but not are not limited to:
- The ability to be able to disconnect the power in case of an emergency, and for if the need arises due to work activities.
- Daily Job Safety analysis for all workers on site.
- Inductions for all workers on site including delivery personnel.
- An overall site-specific safety plan.
- Competency training and proof of competency for all workers.
- Signs, including the awareness of the overhead lines.
- First aid training for onsite first-aider – including what to do if someone inadvertently makes contact with live parts.
WorkSafe will not prohibit works on site unless notice has been issued (where certain issues need to be addressed and need to be complied with). If a WorkSafe inspector has issued a formal notice, then the inspector is the only one that can lift it.
Hazards are up to the PBCU to manage, which is why we have provided risk and control information and resources for working near powerlines. Here, working near overhead lines is the hazard and the risk is an electric shock causing serious injury or death. Effective controls need to be implemented to eliminate or minimise the risk - so far as reasonably practicable.
Considerations for dismantling
Careful consideration is needed for erecting scaffolding safely, but equally, you need to consider the different risks when dismantling the scaffolding.
In the situation of being close to powerlines, you need to assess the risks and plan before dismantling. Good communication with the power company is important to ensure that the power remains off until works have been completed (including dismantling).
Other considerations include (but are not limited to):
- Ensuring the scaffold is free of loose material and debris.
- Where covers provide safety for workers, do not remove this before dismantling the scaffolding.
- Set up exclusion zones with warning notices for other workers and public protection as required.
Read more about dismantling scaffolding safely in our Good Practice Guidelines.
Find out more
WorkSafe has extensive information on working near low voltage overhead electric lines. They cover (and more):
- Assessing the risk of harm before work starts
- Eliminating the risk of electric shock – isolation
- Managing the risk to people working near an overhead line
- Managing the risk of work on temporary structures near an overhead line
- Check control measures
- What the property owner needs to know
- Close approach consent form
- Workers’ rights and responsibilities