Safety around downed electrical wires
This is a guest post written by Jacque Creamer of PPL Electric Utilities’ Health and Safety group. He also is chief of the Fogelsville Volunteer Fire Department in Lehigh County.
Electrical hazards exist in some form for nearly all of us.
Whether you’re a homeowner working around your yard, a contractor on a job site, or a first responder out on a call, you need to know what to do to stay safe.
Hazards multiply for anyone involved in cleanup and recovery efforts following major disasters and storms. One particular danger exists around downed or low-hanging electrical wires.
Above all else, always consider any downed line to be energized. Be cautious. If you notice downed wires or damaged electrical equipment, contact your utility company. For PPL Electric Utilities, that’s 1-800-DIAL-PPL.
Remember: Electrical circuits don’t always turn off when a power line falls into a tree or onto the ground. Even if they are not sparking or humming, downed power lines can kill you if you touch them. Even the ground nearby can be energized.
Downed wires can energize other objects, including fences, water pipes, bushes and trees, buildings and phone and cable wires. Even manhole covers and reinforcement bars in pavement can become energized by downed wires. During storms, wind-blown objects such as canopies, aluminum roofs, siding, sheds, etc., can also be energized by downed wires.
Here are some rules to live by:
- Do NOT assume a downed wire is safe simply because it is on the ground or is not sparking. Everything should be considered energized until tested to be otherwise.
- Do NOT assume that all coated, weatherproof or insulated wire is just telephone, television or fiber-optic cable.
- Never go near a downed electric power line. Always assume that it is energized. Touching it could be fatal.
- Electricity can spread outward through the ground in a circular pattern from the point of contact. As you move away from the center, large differences in voltages can be created.
- Never drive over downed power lines. Assume that they are energized. Even if downed lines are not energized, they can become entangled in your equipment or vehicle.
- If contact is made with an energized power line while you are in a vehicle, remain calm and do not get out unless the vehicle is on fire. If possible, call for help.
- If you must exit any equipment or vehicle because of fire or other safety reasons, try to jump completely clear, making sure that you do not touch the equipment and the ground at the same time. Land with both feet together and shuffle away in small steps to minimize the path of electric current and avoid electrical shock. Be careful to maintain your balance.
Always stay away, and call 911 and your local utility company. Safety is everyone’s responsibility!