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Most Frequently Asked Power Line Questions

December 17th, 2020

As the year winds down, we can look back at everything we’ve learned in 2020 and what we can all do to be safer in 2021.

Whether you’re new to the industry or a seasoned pro, staying safe is everyone’s responsibility. Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about power lines to help prepare you and your team for a safe new year.

Are power lines only dangerous if you touch them?

Under conditions like damp or wet weather, electricity can jump or “arc” through the air to you or any object that gets too close. If you have to work within 7 metres of an overhead line, always contact your local utility before any work begins for direction on how to work safely.

Does a downed power line always spark or smoke?

Power lines don’t automatically de-energize when they are knocked to the ground so you should always treat downed power lines as live and stay away from them and keep others away as well. Wait until you know that the site has been cleared for safety by a utility crew if you need to be in the area.

How can birds sit on power lines?

Electricity is always looking for the quickest path to ground. Since birds are not touching the ground or anything attached to the ground, electricity flows through them and they don’t get electrocuted. However, if a large bird makes contact with power lines of different voltages or with a line and a tree branch, it completes the circuit and would be shocked.

Can trees conduct electricity?

Although wood is less conductive than metal, the moisture and sap in the tree aren’t. If a tree comes into contact with a power line while you’re trimming, it has a direct path to the ground through the water in the tree, your tools and you. Being aware of branches growing near power lines is just as important; if they’ve grown within three metres of the line, keep clear and call your local utility company.

Should you stay inside a vehicle when it makes contact with a power line?

If your vehicle or equipment comes into contact with a power line or transformer, stay inside and warn others to stay back at least 10 metres. Then if it’s safe to do so and your vehicle or equipment is still running, carefully move it out of contact with the power equipment and at least 10 metres away, then park and shut down. Your equipment and the ground around it are likely energized. By stepping outside of your vehicle, you could complete the circuit and risk serious injury or death. Call emergency services (911) and your local utility company for further assistance and for more info you can visit our If You Make Contact section. Only exit the vehicle when you know It Is safe to do so.

What is the difference between transmission lines and distribution lines?

Transmission lines distribute higher voltage power over large distances, and they can transport more electricity. They are often located on steel towers or bigger wood pole structures higher in the air. Distribution lines distribute lower voltage power over shorter distances often in your neighbourhood or community.

Can a household current kill you?

A household current can and does kill. It’s just as important to think about safety whether you are inside or outside. Even power line contacts don't always kill but the consequences of contacting an energized line anywhere can be excruciating and have painful effects that linger long after your burns have healed. Indoors or outdoors, it’s important to stay safe.

What do coloured flags mean in the ground mean?

Red: Electric power lines, cables, conduit and lighting cables

Orange: Telecommunication, alarm or signal lines, cables or conduit

Yellow: Natural gas, oil, steam, petroleum or other gaseous or flammable material

Green: Sewers and drain lines

Blue: Drinking water

Violet: Reclaimed water, irrigation and slurry lines

Pink: Temporary survey markings, unknown/unidentified facilities

White: Proposed excavation limits or route

Want to Improve and test your power line safety knowledge? Check out our online safety tutorials and complete the quizzes to earn limited edition swag for you and your crew!

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The Joint Utility Safety Team (JUST) is a partnership between the following Alberta electric utilities with contributions from local municipalities, formed to address the frequency of power line contacts across the province.