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Hedger contacts HV conductor

Published 2024-06-11

Vegetation Management Work

Background

A work crew was pruning a tree located near powerlines in a hazardous bushfire risk area on behalf of an electricity distribution business. A crew member working from an elevated work platform (EWP) was using a petrol powered pole pruner with a hedger attachment to trim a cypress tree. The operator was repositioning the tool when the hedger attachment contacted an uninsulated high voltage conductor; the crew member felt a tingle from the contact and dropped the hedger. 

No one was injured in the incident however it had the potential to cause serious or even fatal injury. 

A photograph of a 'hedger' or hedge trimmer. This model is straight, with a saw on one end and the power supply on the other, with a rounded handle.

Investigation findings

The Energy Safe investigation found:

  • the pre-work hazard assessment failed to include all site factors, omitting the intended use of powered hand-held hedge trimmer
  • the EWP operator had limited vegetation management experience and had not yet been verified as competent for the work skill “powered hand-held equipment”
  • the EWP operator failed to ensure Safe Approach Distances (SAD’s) were maintained 
  • the EWP Safety Observer failed to communicate effectively with the EWP Operator to ensure SAD’s were maintained
  • the work crew failed to implement control measures to ensure the work could be completed safely.

Energy Safe formed the view that the combination of these failures resulted in a breach of electricity safety legislation. Heavy penalties may apply to such breaches.

Enforcement action

A warning letter was issued to the EWP operator for failing to ensure the tool they were using remained the required SAD to the electric line. As such the EWP operator failed to comply with r616 and r618 of the Electricity Safety (General) Regulations 2019. 

The safety observer was issued a letter outlining the importance their role in maintaining site safety including by ensuring SAD’s are not compromised at the work site.

Key lessons

When pruning near powerlines it is vital to:

  • only undertake tasks for which you have been trained, authorised, and have sufficient experience
  • ensure all site hazards are identified and actions to control the hazards are implemented
  • always maintain SAD’s when undertaking works in the vicinity of live electrical apparatus
  • ensure a safety observer is on site and communicates effectively with the operator to ensure maintenance of appropriate safety standards when electric line clearance work is being performed.

Important warnings

  • Worksites near electric lines are dangerous. Electricity can be conducted through equipment and other items (such as branches) that come into contact with powerlines.
  • Vegetation management workers have been seriously injured and even electrocuted after coming into contact with uninsulated low voltage and high voltage electric lines.
  • Failing to identify hazards on worksites can put workers, their colleagues and the public at risk of serious harm.

Date: 17/07/2024 21:52

Controlled document

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Reviewed