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When working near power lines, know the three keys of safety

Window cleaning
WorkSafeBC's 'Plan for 10' messaging refers to planning to stay a minimum of 10 feet (three metres) away from high-voltage lines, including distribution power lines in most neighbourhoods. It could also apply to you when cleaning windows, pruning trees or cleaning the gutters of your home.

Learn the rules, and spread the word to student and other seasonal workers

There are no shortcuts to safety when it comes to working near power lines and other electrical hazards. But there is a shortcut that electrical current likes to take: sometimes it's through a tree or other object, and sometimes through a person.

"Electricity is always looking for a way to go into the ground or find a shortcut to the ground," says Anita Ansari, a senior safety advisor with BC Hydro. "And if a quicker and easier route to the ground is arcing through the air and through a person down a ladder or a boom, it's going to do that. Electrical hazards aren't just about touch – it's about how close you are."

That's why Ansari and other members of our safety team are out to let everyone know to 'look up and down' for safety hazards. A message that's especially important as a lot of young workers, such as student painters, gutter cleaners and window washers, start their spring and summer jobs.

Are you about to start work as a seasonal worker, or do some work on a ladder at your home? Are you a parent or friend of a young worker about to start painting houses or working outdoors? Make sure you and those you care for are aware of the three keys of electrical safety:

  • Look up and down: Always check for power lines overhead and call or click BC One Call before you do any digging to ensure there are no power lines underground.
  • Stay back: Follow WorkSafeBC Regulation and stay back the appropriate distance from power lines and electrical equipment.
  • 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.

Worker training is available in-person and online

We offer two-hour custom sessions, available throughout B.C., that can be hosted at your workplace or other location. We also have four self-guided courses you can take online.

The ideal online course for most trades and outdoor seasonal workers is a 45-minute course that covers safety for anyone who works near power lines or electrical equipment. It's offered in English, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Punjabi.

Learn more about electrical safety training courses for workers

What does safety have to do with a golf club, car, pick-up or bus?

There's no need to soft-peddle messaging around electricity, but there are ways to make it easier to remember.

If you visit one of our booths at a home show or community event, you may be offered a wallet card that comes with a big and bold message at the top: Electricity can kill you. It then spells out how far away you need to be, depending on the voltage of lines near you:

  • Under 750 V (such as the service drop extending from a power pole to your home): Stay at least one metre, or a golf-club's length away.
  • 750 V to 75 kV (distribution power lines suspended on top of power poles in most neighbourhoods): Stay at least 3 metres, or a four-door car's length away.
  • 75 kV to 250 kV (transmission lines on smaller towers): Stay at least 4.5 metres away, or the length of a pick-up truck.
  • 250 kV to 550 kV (tall transmission tower lines): Stay at least 6 metres away, or the length of a small school bus.

And if you come across a downed power line, a line touching a tree, or other damaged equipment situations, keep at least 10 metres away and call 911.

In the backyard, the 3-metre rule applies to everything, including your tools

Jobs such as 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 it isn'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.

You can also request a temporary disconnect of your service and a reconnection at no charge, to do roof, gutter or tree trimming work safely. Call us at 1 800 224 9376.

You can prune your backyard trees, or 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 to contact a certified utility arborist.

Branches rubbing on service wires wear through the wires' weather coating and may cause home electrical appliance damage. Call us at 1 800 224 9376 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 or call 604 257 1940, 1 800 474 6886 outside the Lower Mainland.

Think electrical accidents don't happen? Read this

In the spring of 2021, a worker at a multi-unit residential building construction site was on a scaffold and tried to throw a high-visibility vest to another worker and it got caught on an overhead power line. He was seriously injured by an electric shock he got by reaching out with a length of aluminum channel to try to free the vest.

"That's an example of a situation where someone has gone off script," says BC Hydro's Ansari. "It's where a situation changed, and it requires what we call a dynamic risk assessment. In the heat of the moment, your plans get pushed aside, and it happens to all of us – you ran out of time or you forgot to do something. But with electrical hazards in play, you need to stop, take note of all hazards in play, regroup and come up with a new plan on how to work around these hazards. A job done late is better than any sort of medical issue, or worse, from getting injured at work."