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A Georgia resident carefully carries a ladder
Carry ladders and other pieces of equipment horizontally to avoid contact with overhead power lines.

Awareness is key to avoiding dangerous contact with overhead lines

When it comes to safety around high voltage power lines, Brad Adcock has two words of advice: Look up.

Brad, who is the director of safety and training at Walton EMC, is on a mission to communicate this message to anyone who might have activities bringing them near the lines that deliver co-op electricity to consumer-owners’ homes and businesses.

“Doing just this one thing — looking up — could prevent

so many accidents involving power lines.”

“Doing just this one thing — looking up — could prevent so many accidents involving power lines,” he said.

Brad has worked at the co-op for 31 years, more than 20 of them as a lineman whose life often depended on knowing and respecting the rules regarding safety when working near high voltage lines. Now, as Walton EMC’s chief safety officer, he’s passionate about teaching others how to identify and avoid this potentially lethal electrical hazard.

“I’m no different than any other person; I love electricity. It keeps my house cool in the summer, turns on the lights, runs my TV and entertainment devices, helps me prepare hot food and a lot more,” he said. “When we use it with care, electricity safely improves our quality of life in so many ways.”

But that doesn’t mean electricity comes without risks, Brad reminds. Power lines can be serious and potentially fatal hazards when proper safety precautions are not followed.

“Electricity always seeks the path of least resistance, which is usually a path to the ground. If you become part of that path, you’re in danger of electrocution or serious injury,” he said.

The safety professional readily admits that his safety message has a self-serving motive. “I never want to get one of ‘those’ phone calls,” he said.

It always begins the same way: a ringing phone and then the delivery of news that makes his shoulders drop and his heartbeat quicken. He’s being summoned to the scene of a serious accident or fatality involving overhead power lines.

‘You never forget’

“It’s something you don’t ever forget,” Brad says about investigating a fatality that has occurred along Walton EMC’s power lines. In those instances, his first thought goes to families who have lost a loved one.

He can still vividly recall the day he was called to Madison.

“They were roofing a church,” he explained. “Instead of letting the ladder down, a worker picked it up to carry it to the other side. The ladder came into contact with a power line and there was a fatality. He was going to save a minute … and he didn’t look up to see the line.”

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

estimates there are approximately 400 high-voltage

electrical fatalities in the U.S. each year.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health estimates there are approximately 400 high-voltage electrical fatalities in the U.S. each year. That’s a little more than one fatality per day. These injuries occur mostly in occupational settings and are the fourth-leading cause of workplace-related traumatic death.

There are also at least 30,000 non-fatal electrical shock incidents per year, a few of which involve exposure to high voltage electricity. High voltage shock victims typically experience serious burns, heart damage and cellular damage that can contribute to a lifetime of medical/health issues.

Take care with ladders

Ladders and shortcuts are a frequent theme in overhead power line contact accidents Brad has investigated.

“Two guys were roofing and decided they’d save time by carrying shingles up the ladder together. The shingles were heavy, so they lost their balance while climbing and the ladder fell backwards onto an overhead line,” he said, recalling an incident that occurred in Walton EMC’s service area. “These guys were lucky. They were hospitalized, but they survived.”

Be careful not to raise any equipment,

such as ladders, poles or rods, into power lines.

Most high voltage incidents are preventable, Brad stressed. Whether it’s at work or while performing a DIY project at home, the same safety rules — beginning with “look up” — apply. He adds these safety guidelines:

  • Assume all power lines are energized. You can’t tell if a wire is “live” simply by observation.
  • Be careful not to raise any equipment, such as ladders, poles or rods, into power lines. Non-metallic materials, such as lumber, tree limbs, tires and ropes will conduct electricity, depending on dampness and dust and dirt contamination.
  • Carry ladders and other pieces of equipment horizontally.
  • Follow the 1:4 rule: For every 4 feet between the ground and the peak of the ladder, set the ladder feet out 1 foot. For example, a ladder reaching 16 feet should be 4 feet from the edge.
  • Never touch or go near a person or equipment that is in contact with an overhead power line.

Look up on the farm

Overhead line awareness is also key to electrical safety on farms where large equipment is in use. Brad reminds Walton EMC customer-owners working on farms to:

  • Keep yourself and equipment at least 10 feet away from power lines in all directions, at all times. Use a spotter when raising or moving tall equipment and loads.
  • Always lower equipment extensions, portable augers or elevators to their lowest possible level, under 14 feet, before moving or transporting them.
  • Never attempt to raise or move a power line to clear a path. If power lines near your property have sagged over time, call Walton EMC to repair them.
  • If you are on equipment that contacts a power line, do not exit the equipment. When you step off the equipment, you become the electricity’s path to the ground and receive a potentially fatal shock. Wait until utility workers have de-energized the line and confirmed it is safe for you to exit the vehicle. If the vehicle is on fire and you must exit, jump clear of the vehicle with both feet together. Hop as far from the vehicle as you can with your feet together. Keep your feet together to prevent current flow through your body, which could be deadly.

Fall home maintenance projects and farming’s harvest season will be here soon. If your work takes you outdoors, remember Brad Adcock’s two words of advice — look up — to prevent contact with an overhead electrical line. Let’s stay safe out there!