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Hidden risks of underground cables

Following a spate of underground electrical cable contacts, Queensland’s Electrical Safety Office is urging everyone carrying out excavation works to think before you dig because the decisions you make before starting work could save a life.

Electrical risks are ever present, whether you are involved in large scale trenching and construction works, vertical or horizontal boring, simply digging a hole or just driving a star picket into the ground. In addition to personal loss and serious injury, repairs to underground cables and equipment are expensive.

A person conducting a business or undertaking at a workplace must ensure no person, plant or thing at the workplace comes within an unsafe distance of an overhead powerline or underground cable.

The best way of avoiding the danger is to establish a safe system of work which involves planning your work in advance; identifying, physically locating and marking the location of underground services, and using safe excavation/digging practices (hydrovac or non-conductive hand tools). Only after all underground assets have been physically located, marked and protected against damage can the excavation proceed with caution.

The following steps will help to safely plan excavation works.

Before excavation starts identify all underground services:

  • visit Before You Dig Australia (BYDA) for information about underground essential services at or near where the excavation is to be done (this service excludes private property)
  • research and comply with your electricity distributor requirements
  • contact the property owner for information on underground services (plans, service types and locations)
  • use electronic locating instruments to establish approximate locations (plans and/or electronic service location cannot be relied upon for physical service locations) and non-mechanical excavation must occur to determine exact locations
  • use advice about underground electrical cables, such as location, type, depth and work restrictions, to excavate safely
  • ensure advice about underground electrical cables is given to anyone else involved.

For excavation works:

  • visually locate cables by potholing using non-mechanical excavation (hydrovac or non-conductive hand tools) to prove the exact location
  • watch out for warning signs of underground electrical cables such as orange tape, conduits, sand or other markers
  • be aware underground electrical cables and conduits may not be at the original depth because of changes in ground levels
  • if you encounter or contact an underground electrical cable, don't move it (contact your electricity distributor immediately and follow their advice)
  • the person with control of the workplace must ensure advice about the location of underground electrical cables is given to all engaged to carry out the excavation.

Further Information