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  • Safety and overhead lines

  • Look out, Look up!

     In the last five years, there were 1,140 near-miss incidents involving machinery and overhead power lines where serious injury or death was a possibility.

    In response to the scale of such incidents, Energy Networks Association and GB’s electricity network operators have joined forces to launch Look Out Look Up!

  • Around five workers every year are killed when the machinery they are operating comes close to, or into contact with, overhead electricity lines. Before you start any work near our overhead lines, please obtain a copy of our network plans which our mapping services team will send to you without charge. You should also get hold of the Health & Safety Executive Guidance 'Avoidance of danger from overhead electric power lines' and follow the advice given. The HSE website has other material you may want to check out.

    • Check how close you will be working to the overhead line.
    • Find out the maximum height and vertical reach of your machines.
    • Make sure you know the maximum permitted working heights under each span of an overhead line and adjacent to each structure.

    All overhead lines and other electrical apparatus can be extremely dangerous. If you need to work near them, get competent advice. We will be happy to help. Read our safety leaflets for more advice.

    Our electricity poles and pylons are usually fitted with a yellow warning sign saying 'Danger of Death'. There should also be warning signs placed near to where any electricity lines are located. Never dismiss the lines as just a telephone wire as it is very difficult to tell telephone and electrical wires apart.
    We can supply stickers to help remind anyone working near overhead lines to take care and check where the lines are before starting work. To order, please email

    Training your staff

    Make sure your staff are aware of the dangers from overhead lines, the precautions they need to take and what to do if their machinery comes into contact with a power line.

    Make sure warning notices are in the cabs of machines working near overhead lines.

    Contractors and visitors

    Make sure contractors and casual labourers are aware of the risks. Tell them where the overhead lines are and what precautions the need to take. Routes can be marked with safety signs to warn visitors of the dangers.

    We would like to take this opportunity to remind you:

    Until we have attended to carry out the disconnection our cable(s) will be live and we strongly recommend that necessary safety precautions are taken to avoid incidents that may lead to injury. 

    Please note that both cable avoidance tools and safe digging techniques must be employed whilst undertaking any site works as there is the possibility of live cables being present within the vicinity. All cables should be proven dead before commencing work. The following Health and Safety Executive Guidance Notes provide excellent advice on this matter and can be found on the HSE website:

     HSG 47: Avoiding Danger from Underground Services

     GS 38: Electrical Test Equipment for Use by Electricians

    Machinery and your safety

    Choosing machinery

    When choosing new machinery:

    • Select models that will not reach more than 4 metres from the ground.
    • Use sprayers with horizontally-folding booms.
    • Mechanically limit the raising and lowering devices on machinery that needs to work under overhead lines so that they don’t encroach on the safety clearances.

      Using machinery

      The following operations should not be carried out within a horizontal distance of at least 9 metres from power lines or at least 15 metres from lines on metal towers:

      • stacking bales or potato boxes
      • folding sprayer booms
      • tipping trailers or lorries
      • operations materials handlers
      • working on top of combine harvesters or other high machinery.

        Reduce the risks

        The risk of an accident can be significantly reduced by:

        • Not folding sprayer booms on the move. Why not have a designated safe area for high-risk operations such as boom folding, tipping trailers or telescopic handler use?
        • Making sure an experience banksman or slinger is present when machinery is operated near overhead lines.
        • Not steadying suspended loads unless you are satisfied you are nowhere near an overhead line.
        • Fitting shorter radio aerials or repositioning existing ones on high machines so they cannot cause danger.
        • Carrying irrigation pipes horizontally using two people and not storing pipes or other materials near or under power lines.
        • Erecting barriers that machines have to pass beneath which can be limited to a safe height.
        • Creating alternative access points and routes.

          Emergency action

          Should machinery come into contact with an overhead line, take the following action:

          • Never touch an overhead line, even if it has been brought down by machinery, or has fallen. Do not assume it is dead.
          • When a machine is in contact with an overhead line, anyone who touches both the machine and the ground can be electrocuted. Stay in the machine and lower raised parts in contact, or drive the machine out of the lines if you can.
          • If you need to get out, to summon help or because of fire, don’t climb out in the usual way, jump out as far as possible, without touching the wires or the machine and don’t touch any part of the machine when on the ground.
          • Call our emergency number and ask us to disconnect the supply. Even if the line appears dead, do not touch it; automatic switching may reconnect the power.

          Underground cables

          Underground services can be extremely dangerous. If damaged, they can cause a dangerous flash, leading to severe burns or even death.

          Underground services are commonly found in roads, footpaths and on sites or across open land. If in doubt, always assume they are present and treat any services found anywhere as ‘live’.

          Before starting work:

          • Get copies of plans of the underground services in the area by registering with Line Search Before U Dig (LSBUD) at Once registered, you’ll be able to raise enquiries to access information about our underground cables.
          • If you are in any doubt regarding the positioning, we can also get one of our operatives to help trace the cable using cable avoidance tools (this service is free of charge and can be booked by contacting General Enquiries on 0800 048 3516)
          • Use a cable locator to trace electricity pipes.
          • Mark the positions of cables using paint or other waterproof marking on the ground. On soft ground use short pegs and marker tape.
          • Look for any signs of service cables, eg. an electricity meter box or service connection entry into a house or street light.
          • Hand-dig trial holes to confirm the position of services in close proximity to where you are working.

          When you start work:

          • Always hand-dig near to services using spades and shovels rather than picks, pins and forks.
          • Electricity cables embedded in concrete must either be made safe before the concrete is broken out or another safe way of working agreed with the cable owner.
          • Services are sometimes protected by concrete polythene or earthenware tiles or a marker tape may be laid above the service. This is a useful indication of the presence of the service. You should avoid disturbing any tile or tape to expose the service if possible. There are, however, many services that have no tiles, tapes or other physical indication of their presence.