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Overhead power lines

What you need to know

Accidental contact with live overhead power lines kills people and causes many serious injuries every year. People are also harmed when a person or object gets too close to a line and a flashover occurs. Work involving high vehicles or long equipment is particularly high risk, such as;

In Construction – Lorry mounted cranes (such as Hiabs), Mobile Elevated Work Platforms (MEWP's), scaffold poles, tipper vehicles, cranes, ladders;

In Agriculture – combines, sprayer booms, materials handlers, tipper vehicles, ladders, irrigation pipes, polytunnels; Remember:

You can download a free leaflet called "Safe working near overhead power lines in agriculture".

The guidance note "Avoiding danger from overhead power lines" describes how to work safely near overhead power lines in a range of industries.

The Electricity Networks Association (ENA) publications:

What you need to do

Plan and manage work near electric overhead power lines so that risks from accidental contact or close proximity to the lines are adequately controlled.

Safety precautions will depend on the nature of the work and will be essential even when work near the line is of short duration.

Safety can be achieved by a combination of measures:

Planning and preparation

The first step is to find out whether there is any overhead power line within or immediately next to the work area, or across any access route.

Information will be available from the local electricity supplier or Distribution Network Operator (DNO). If any overhead lines are found, you should assume that they are live unless proved otherwise by their owners.

If there are any overhead lines over the work area, near the site boundaries, or over access roads to the work area, consult the owners of the lines so that the proposed plan of work can be discussed.

Allow sufficient time for lines to be diverted or made dead, or for other precautions to be taken as described below.

Eliminating the danger

You can eliminate the danger by:

In some cases you may need to use a suitable combination of these measures, particularly where overhead lines pass over permanent work areas.

If the danger cannot be eliminated, you should manage the risk by controlling access to, and work beneath, overhead power lines.

Controlling the access

Where there is no scheduled work or requirement for access under the lines, barriers should be erected at the correct clearance distance away from the line to prevent close approach. The safe clearance distance should be ascertained from the Distribution Network Operator (DNO). HSE guidance documents Avoidance of danger from overhead electric power lines and Electricity at Work: Forestry and Arboriculture also provide advice on safe clearance distances and how barriers should be constructed. Where there is a requirement to pass beneath the lines, defined passageways should be made.

The danger area should be made as small as possible by restricting the width of the passageway to the minimum needed for the safe crossing of plant. The passageway should cross the route of the overhead line at right angles if possible.

Controlling the work

If work beneath live overhead power lines cannot be avoided, barriers, goal posts and warning notices should be provided. Where field work is taking place it may be impractical to erect barriers and goal posts around the overhead lines - these are more appropriate for use at gateways, on tracks and at access points to farm yards.

The following precautions may also be needed to manage the risk:

What to do if you come into contact with an OHPL

WARNING: Contact with an overhead power line may cause the power to 'trip out' temporarily and it may be re-energised automatically, without warning.

Your local Distribution Network Operator (DNO) can generally supply stickers describing emergency procedures and containing contact numbers that can be stuck in the cabs of vehicles likely to be used near overhead power lines.

The leaflet called Safe working near overhead power lines in agriculture and the Electricity Networks Association (ENA) publications Safety Information for Farmers and Agricultural Contractors and Watch It! In the Vicinity of Overhead Lines provide advice on what to do if machinery or equipment comes into contact with an overhead power line.

Find out more

This 4 page information sheet gives lots of practical guidance on how to avoid danger when working near overhead power lines. It is aimed at those working in agriculture, but many of the principles described are applicable to other work activities. Topics covered include safe working distances from overhead lines, assessing and reducing the risks from overhead lines, use of barriers and goalposts, operating vehicles near overhead lines, ladders, and the safe stacking of materials.

General electrical information

There is also a priced interactive CD produced by HSE that provides a lot of general advice regarding electrical matters.

The Simple Precautions and Frequently asked Questions web pages will help you to select the best guidance on working with electricity.

Many other organisations provide information about electrical matters.

Information on accident statistics is also available from a number of sources.

Updated 2013-10-25