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Billboard workers overhead powerlines electric shock

On 7 August 2017, two workers in an uninsulated elevating work platform contacted an 11 kV powerline with the six metre aluminium sail track they were reinstalling on a billboard. Both workers suffered a severe electrical shock and burns from contacting the high voltage lines.

This is a reminder that working near powerlines can be fatal. Touching them or straying into the exclusion zone around them can result in a serious electric shock or electrocution.

Preventing a similar incident

  • Make sure electrical risks are controlled or better still eliminated at the design and construction stage for new billboard structures.
  • For existing billboards, identify overhead powerlines by visiting the site or talking to the property owner and electrical entity.
  • Include information on the run/job sheet to alert workers before they arrive onsite that the billboard is close to powerlines.
  • When you arrive on site, conduct a site specific risk assessment, thinking about:
    • the type of plant and equipment/tools that will be used - the reach and slew of the elevating work platform
    • the nature and size of billboard skin and aluminium sail tracks – is it possible for them to enter the exclusion zone?
    • site and weather conditions – wind, rain or limited access to the signage or billboard
    • the type of work being done – reskinning, painting or repairing
    • set-up and pack-up procedures.
  • Plan for as many tasks as possible to be completed away from the powerlines - such as removing or re-installing sail tracks - not underneath or in the direction of them.
  • Only use insulated tools and elevating work platforms.
  • Use the 'feed down' method to install billboard skins.
  • Swage sail tracks to shorten them.
  • Use fixed tracks on edges closest to powerlines.
  • Use a designated safety observer who does not perform any other task that compromises their role, does not observe more than one billboard job at a time and can communicate with the billboard workers at all times.
  • Ask the electricity entity to de-energise the powerline for the duration of work.
  • Make powerlines and poles visible. Ask your electrical entity for advice and have them install markers or flags on the powerlines.
  • If a billboard is close to overhead powerlines, work with the electrical entity to move the lines away.
  • Install warning signs at access points and the top of the billboard to remind workers that powerlines are near.
  • Induct and train your workers to ensure they know that the height and reach of elevating work platforms and the tools used to apply billboard skins greatly increase the chance of something or someone entering an exclusion zone (Figure 1).
  • Make sure your workers have received training from the electrical entities on working near or around powerlines.
  • Mark the safe distance from an exclusion zone on the ground, and ensure your workers are aware that powerlines sag or sway in hot or windy weather (Figure 2).
Figure 1Figure 1Figure 2

Tyre pyrolysis

Tyre pyrolysis is when combustion happens inside a tyre with no external signs, with the potential to explode. It can be caused by electrical arcing and current flow when rubber tyred vehicles come into contact with powerlines.

The excessive heat within the tyre causes decomposition of the compounds in the tyre creating flammable gas, vapour and/or oils which can rupture or explode the tyre. Tyre pyrolysis predominantly happens with split rim wheels, but can happen with all types. Any pneumatic rubber tyred vehicle which has contacted powerlines should be considered as a risk. The danger area can be up to 300 metres from the tyre as enormous amounts of energy can be released from the explosion, often leading to significant equipment damage, serious injuries or fatalities. Take the following precautions if you suspect there is danger of a tyre explosion:

  • park the vehicle in an isolation zone, with a minimum 300 metre radius
  • remove everyone from the area, and do not allow anyone to re-enter the isolation zone for 24 hours
  • alert firefighting services.


Over recent years there have been three other significant incidents where sign writing and billboard workers have contacted overhead powerlines with their equipment:

  • In February 2012 two workers were removing and installing advertising skins to a billboard from a gantry. One of the workers, using an uninsulated 6.5 metre metal pole to remove the advertising skin, made contact with a live power line and was electrocuted.
  • In July 2016 a worker changing a billboard skin suffered an electrical shock and severe burns when an uninsulated metal pole the worker was using contacted a nearby 33kV powerline.
  • In August 2016 a worker installing a sign from an elevated work platform received electrical shock and severe burns after manoeuvring 6m aluminium sail track into nearby powerlines.

In all industries since 1 January 2016 there have been 13 serious electrical incidents involving workers contacting overhead powerlines, three of which were fatal.

  • three involving billboard workers
  • three in construction (a labourer, concrete pump operator and a concreter)
  • three in agriculture (a spray rig operator, two farm labourers)
  • two truck drivers
  • one tree lopper
  • one labourer trimming trees.

Prosecutions and compliance

Billboard company operators must ensure that nothing and no-one comes within an unsafe distance of an overhead powerline.

The billboard company involved in the 2012 fatality was fined $125,000 with costs totalling nearly $50,000.

In all industries since 1 January 2016, we have issued 47 notices relating to powerline infringements. 35 of these involved a breach of an exclusion zone and 17 of those involved contact with the powerline. The other 12 notices were issued solely for not conducting a risk assessment.

Two new electrical safety infringement notices were introduced on 30 June 2017. Our inspectors can now issue on the spot penalties of up to $3000 to businesses which fail to identify the risks and implement appropriate controls around powerlines.

More information

Support for people affected by a serious workplace incident

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