Watch Your Step!

6 August 2007

Watch Your Step!

Police officers around the UK are being urged to be ever more aware of dangers to themselves and their colleagues around overhead power lines. Adrenaline can often take over in serious situations for all emergency service staff and in the heat of the moment vital safety precautions can be missed.

Overhead power lines are essential to the UK’s power grid and supply electricity to all towns, cities, villages and hamlets.

Power lines are easily confused with telephone lines and can carry voltages from 230 up to 400,000. Even touching a 230 volt line can be fatal and even the lowest voltage lines can produce 10,000 times the amount of current needed to kill a person. A common misconception is that rubber boots will protect against such dangers – this is not the case. Many people also do not remember that electricity can jump gaps so just because a wire is broken, it does not mean that it is safe. The most important advice is to stay at least five metres away from wires if in any doubt at all.

ENA has compiled a range of leaflets to reinforce emergency service training due to the number of serious accidents throughout the country in relation to the national grid.

Examples could be road traffic accidents, suicides, protests, or simple misjudgements in distance such as fishermen, campers, scaffolders. A recent example highlighted the dangers when police attended the scene of an accident where a man was killed when his marquee tensioning wire came into contact with the power lines. The emergency services did their best to resuscitate him but to no avail – however they did not check the status of the wire, and came very close to being electrocuted themselves.

ENA head of safety, health and environment Peter Coyle said 'Overhead electric power lines are often difficult to see, particularly at night and against a dark or very bright background. They are normally bare (not insulated) and can be mistaken for telephone wires, with disastrous consequences.'

Currently the higher voltage lines normally have yellow ‘Danger of Death’ warning notices fitted to the poles or towers but lower voltage lines may not be marked. At higher voltages electricity may jump short distances through the air. This means it is not necessary to touch an overhead electric power line to suffer an electric shock and burns which could result in death.

“Detailed advice is available at the Energy Networks Association website,