Above Ground Utility Safety

High Risk Activities

Home Learning Centre Above Ground Utility Safety High Risk Activities


Over 25% of direct power line contacts in Alberta involve excavators.

The majority of incidents involving overhead power lines occur when equipment is being operated or transported. Even if the equipment doesn’t make direct contact, electricity can arc or “jump” from the power line to any conductive object. The chances of arcing increase with the voltage.

Failing to locate buried utilities prior to breaking ground, and inexperience working around marked lines, are two reasons why underground power line contacts are so common. Request a locate before you dig by contacting Utility Safety Partners online or at 1-800-242-3447.

When your equipment contacts a power line, you’re not the only one at risk.

When equipment makes contact with a power line, it puts both the operator and the workers standing in the surrounding area at risk. An electrical current may flow through the equipment and into the ground. The voltage will be highest close to the equipment and “ripples” outward, energizing anything touching it.

Carefully planning how equipment is used in proximity to power lines is key. Always keep your equipment at least 7 metres away from overhead lines. If you must work around underground lines after they’re located, be sure to use excavation techniques approved by the underground facility owner.

Oversize equipment isn’t the only culprit.

Scaffolds can reach as high as 76 metres and are made of conductive materials — two factors that put workers at high risk of power line contacts. Being trained to work safely with scaffolds around power lines can save your life.


Plan ahead before you haul.

Notify your local utility company in advance of transporting oversize loads, as it will need to prepare a safe route. Don’t forget to take weather conditions and heavy traffic into consideration when planning.

Always consider the height of your equipment.

Newer equipment models can reach as high as 5.9 metres. Know the height of each piece of equipment before moving it, as equipment is taller if placed on a trailer. Check that all augers, dump truck beds, and other equipment are in the lowered position before transportation.

Know your route and stick to it.

Power lines in Alberta are designed and constructed to follow our province’s Electrical Codes and Standards. What many don’t realize is that the electrical current from a power line can arc to nearby equipment that isn’t physically touching the line, particularly in wet or humid weather.

Learn about high load vehicle regulations.

Alberta Transportation has established maximum vehicle weight and dimension limits to preserve highway infrastructure and to ensure the safety of the travelling public. This includes legal limits for any registered vehicle travelling on any public road, as well as the provision for movement of oversize loads under permit.

Alberta also has High Load Corridors or a network of designated highways in the province which have had the overhead utility lines raised to accommodate loads up to nine metres high (29.5 feet).

For more information about regulations for oversize vehicles and to access the High Load Corridor map visit the Government of Alberta website or contact your local utility company.


Use caution when raising and lowering booms, wings or extensions.

Extensions on equipment can reach as high as 7.9 metres. Keeping a distance of at least 7 metres between the highest point of your equipment and overhead power lines will keep you out of harm’s way. Don’t forget about antennas!

Know the height of your equipment.

Even when moving equipment from field to field, always be aware of the height of your equipment. If you’re unsure whether you can move your equipment safely, contact your local utility company. They’ll help you map out a safe route.

Keep conductive equipment and materials at a safe distance.

When installing fence wire, don’t erect it along the same route as power lines on your property. Avoid straining the wire to prevent it from springing up and making contact with overhead lines.

Know safe working distances and stick to them.

Always ensure that hay and grain piles, ladders, silos, and buildings are at least 7 metres away from overhead power lines. Before breaking ground on your property, contact Utility Safety Partners to locate all underground utilities.

Oil & Gas

Assess all potential hazards on the worksite.

Before work begins, assessing the worksite and the equipment required is critical. Determine how close to overhead power lines equipment will be operated and locate all underground utilities on the worksite.

If any equipment has the potential to get closer than 7 metres from overhead power lines or if you’ll need to disturb the ground within one metre on either side of a marked underground utility, additional safety precautions are needed.

Take the necessary steps to eliminate hazards and set up control measures.

If safe distances from power lines can’t be maintained, your employer is responsible for determining whether work can proceed.

De-energizing the lines can be coordinated with the local utility company, making it safe to proceed with scheduled work. For underground power lines, working around the energized line might still be possible using excavation techniques approved by the underground facility owner.

If overhead power lines can’t be de-energized, the utility company can provide you with alternatives.

If you feel unsafe, say something.

While it’s ultimately the responsibility of your employer to ensure that the site is safe before work begins, you have the right to voice your concerns and remove yourself from an unsafe worksite.

First Responders

Always assume power lines are energized.

You can’t tell if a downed power line or piece of equipment is energized just by looking at it. Avoid danger by treating all power lines, underground transformers and anything in contact with them as energized.

When arriving on scene, park at least 10 metres away and stay put.

When you arrive on scene, park your vehicle at least 10 metres (33 feet) away from the downed line or damaged transformer. Stay in the safe zone until the utility service provider confirms it is safe to approach the scene.

Don’t become a victim yourself.

You won’t be able to help anyone if you’re injured or electrocuted. Never touch anything or anyone in contact with a downed power line, including injured or trapped victims, vehicles, trees, puddles or bodies of water.

Note: Guardrails, metal or barbed wire fences are excellent conductors of electricity, so always proceed with caution when working around them.

Stop traffic and keep people in the 10-metre safe zone.

Whether on foot or in a vehicle, coming into contact with a power line (or the energized area surrounding it) puts you at risk of being electrocuted. Pedestrians and motorists might not see a downed line or think it’s safe to drive over one, so always be sure to redirect traffic away from the scene and tell others to stay away.

Always call the local utility service provider.

Once you’ve secured the area, contact the local utility company to de-energize the line or transformer. A crew with proper training and equipment will arrive as soon as possible and will confirm when it’s safe to approach the scene.