Stories & Features

Roofers, window washers, painters need to know power line risks

In this video from WorkSafeBC, a house painter contacts a power line with a ladder. WorkSafeBC recommends that a work plan is always created by a supervisor and communicated to all workers on site to reduce the risk of electrical contact.

Some younger workers, in particular, know little about dangers of electrical contact

It doesn't happen often, but the results can be tragic. And it seems to happen most to younger workers – including high schoolers doing summer jobs – and also to people working in their own backyards.

BC Hydro and WorkSafeBC have a wealth of information about how to stay safe when working near overhead power lines. But not everyone pays attention.

A BC Hydro report released in May cited a concerning trend – electrical contact incidents involving 'backyard loggers' are up 30% since the COVID-19 pandemic began. And there's evidence that seasonal workers including painters, roofers, gutter repair service personnel, and window washers, are putting themselves at risk of serious injury or death.

"Workers who put themselves at height, such as roofers, are at the greatest risk," says BC Hydro public safety officer Marc Spencer. "Incidents have ranged in severity from a non-injury from contact with a 7.2 kV line to a gutter worker killed by electrical contact."

Spencer spends a lot of his time educating workers through industry associations about how to stay safe around power lines, but he can't reach everyone. He says smaller companies may not have robust safety policies and practices, and are unlikely to belong to those industry associations.

If you're doing seasonal work such as washing windows or house painting, or just doing yard work at home, please take the time to get to know the steps you should take to stay safe and to ensure you're working at safe distances, which vary depending on the voltage of a power line.

Workers must know the 3 Keys of Electrical Safety

All workers should know the 3 Keys of Electrical Safety:

  1. Look up and down: Plan your work to avoid contact with power lines. Make sure you look for power lines overhead and underground.
  2. Stay back: If you're working around power lines, keep a safe distance from the lines. You should be at least 10 metres (33 feet) away from the lines and your equipment should be at least 6 metres (20 feet) away. Use a spotter to make sure you're maintaining this minimum safe distance.
  3. Call for help: If you come across a fallen power line, an exposed underground power line, or any object comes into contact with a power line, stay back 10 metres (33 feet) and call 911. If your equipment contacts a line, stay calm and stay still until help arrives.

If your profession has you working near electrical infrastructure, see our training resources for workers.

Dave chats with BC Hydro safety expert Tarek about how to stay safe when doing yard work.

In the backyard, the three-metre rule applies to everything, including the tools you hold

Jobs like trimming trees, cleaning gutters, or doing home renovations might take you close to nearby power lines. It's important to remember that it isn't only your body that needs to stay three metres (10 feet) away. Any branches you might be trimming, the tools you're using, and even your ladder all need to stay clear.

A tree or an object can still be a hazard even if they aren't touching an energized power line. Electricity can arc or jump between an energized line and a tree, a tool and even a person if they get too close. By staying back three metres, you'll be safe.

Not sure if you're too close? Three metres is equivalent to the distance of two bikes, three baseball bats, or the height of a standard basketball hoop.

You can prune your backyard trees, or you can hire an arborist

In B.C., property owners are responsible for keeping the service wires on their properties – the twisted lines that run from the BC Hydro pole to their homes – clear of vegetation.

If you choose to do your own pruning, you must know safe distance rules that focus on a minimum of three metres of clearance from persons, equipment and all parts of a tree. And anyone who can't do their own pruning or is unsure how to do it safely is urged by BC Hydro to contact a certified utility arborist to prune trees.

Branches rubbing on service wires wear through the wires' weather coating and may cause home electrical appliance damage. BC Hydro recommends calling 1 800 BCHYDRO if any part of a tree or hedge is within three metres of a power line. It's also vital that British Columbians call or click BC1 Call before digging in their yards to locate any underground electrical or other infrastructure. Make a request online at bc1c.ca or call 604 257 1940, 1 800 474 6886 outside the Lower Mainland.