In July 2021, one worker died and six others received electric shocks when a harvester came close enough to an overhead powerline to cause an electric fault current path. Initial investigations found the powerline had dropped approximately 3.6m from its original height because the stay wire on one of the poles had broken, potentially due to corrosion.
It appears the workers were in the field working around a tractor that was pulling the harvester and conveyor when the top of the harvester came too close to the powerline. The worker who died was standing on the ground next to the conveyor at the time.
These findings are not yet confirmed and investigations are continuing into the exact cause.
Contact with overhead powerlines or coming too close to overhead powerlines can be fatal. You don't need to come in direct contact with them to receive an electric shock. Electricity can flashover or arc across air gaps. All powerline voltages are lethal, with the risk of flashover increasing as the powerline voltage rises.
The most common electrical risks associated with working near overhead powerlines are:
- electric shock causing injury or death
- arcing, explosion or fire causing burns (arcing or explosion or both occur when high fault currents are present)
- fire causing property damage.
Examples of work which can have risks from overhead powerlines include:
- operating a crane on a construction site
- operating a harvester on a farm
- operating mobile plant such as vehicle loading cranes and elevating work platforms anywhere near overhead powerlines.
Ways to manage health and safety
Taking steps to manage risks is a condition of doing business in Queensland. Effective risk management starts with a commitment to health and safety from those who manage the business. If an incident occurs, you'll need to show the regulator that you’ve used an effective risk management process. This responsibility is covered by your primary duty of care in the Electrical Safety Act 2002 and the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.
The Electrical Safety Act 2002 places duties on persons to ensure electrical safety. Persons who have a duty are persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), designers, manufacturers, importers, suppliers, installers, repairers, persons in control of electrical equipment, workers and other persons.
Note: Where the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and the Electrical Safety Act 2002 both apply the Electrical Safety Act 2002 takes priority.
Use the hierarchy of controls to help decide how to eliminate and reduce risks in your place of work. The hierarchy of controls ranks types of control methods from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest. It’s a step-by-step approach to eliminating or reducing risks. You must work through the hierarchy of controls when managing risks, with the aim of eliminating the hazard, which is the most effective control.
Possible control measures to prevent similar incidents:
Exclusion zones are the minimum safe distance from live power lines to reduce the risk of an electric shock.
If you must work near powerlines, you should follow these steps:
- Develop a safe system of work before you start
- Develop a safe system that ensures a safe distance from powerlines is maintained (stay outside the exclusion zone)
- Identify overhead and underground powerlines by consulting maps and/or talking to the property owner and electrical entity. For Ergon Energy and Energex visit lookupandlive.com.au for your free powerline safety plan.
- Conduct a site specific risk assessment – think about:
- the type of plant and equipment/tools used
- site and weather conditions
- type of work being done
- set-up and pack-up procedures.
- Put risk controls in place – the most effective way of controlling the risk is to de-energise the line for the duration of work where there is a risk of contact.
- Keep your workers and contractors informed about electrical safety
- Induct and train your workers and contractors in safe work procedures, emergency procedures, and exclusion zones (Figure 1).
- Carefully plan the tasks to be completed near powerlines and work away from them whenever possible, not underneath them.
- Show your workers the safe distance from a powerline by marking it on the ground.
- Ensure people are aware that powerlines sag or sway in hot or windy weather (Figure 2).
- Harvesters, elevating work platforms, irrigation pipes, grain augers, elevators, mobile grain silos, cranes, tippers and excavators have the potential to enter exclusion zones. Ensure operators know the height and reach of machinery or hand-held items to be used.
- Avoid going into exclusion zones
- Make powerlines and poles visible. Ask your electrical entity for permission to paint power poles and/or have them install markers or flags on the powerlines.
- Plan your work so tree branches do not fall across powerlines.
- Where possible, use insulated or non-conductive tools and equipment.
- Use a safety observer to make sure you stay well clear of exclusion zones.
- Follow the safety advice you obtain from your electrical entity.
- Although the following are the minimum safe distances, the best way to stay electrically safe is to maintain the greatest possible distance from powerlines.
Power line voltage
(1 kV = 1000 volts)
Up to 132 kV
Low voltage and high voltage powerlines usually on poles
Between 132 kV and 330 kV
High voltage powerlines usually on poles and towers
Over 330 kV
High voltage powerlines usually on towers
The “Look up and live” powerline safety planning tool is available at lookupandlive.com.au. The tool is an interactive geospatial map that displays Energex and Ergon Energy electricity networks.
- Electrical Safety Code of Practice 2020 - Working near overhead and underground electric lines (PDF, 0.47 MB)
- Working safely near powerlines in the rural industry (PDF, 1.87 MB)
- Ergon Energy
- Dial Before You Dig
- Look up and Live map - displays the Energex and Ergon Energy electricity networks
- Exclusion zones
- Electrical exclusion zones - Film
Have you been affected by a workplace fatality, illness or serious injury?
For advice and support: