High Voltage!

Added 7 Mar 2023
Last updated 24 May 2023

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Power lines can kill and are a danger when working at height using mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPs). 

IPAF’s High Voltage! safety campaign identifies the hazards and risks associated with working near power lines and explains how to work safely to avoid the risks.

Powered access incidents involving electrocutions and electric shocks associated with power lines have notably increased since 2015.*

What are the Hazards and Risks?

If a MEWP or its occupants come into contact with power lines the result can be instant death, electric shock, or other injuries caused directly or indirectly by electricity. 
Electric shock can also occur without direct contact with power lines as arcing or flashover may result if a MEWP is closer to the power line than a minimum of 3m or 10 feet.

Incorrect identification of overhead power  lines is also a risk as they can be mistaken for telecommunication lines.

Other risk factors include power lines that may be hidden from view by vegetation or trees, a lack of work site supervision and operator complacency.

To reduce the risk of electrocutions and shocks, always: 

Plan thoroughly – look out and around for power lines in the work area. Conduct a site survey and risk assessment ensuring a safe system of work (SSoW) is completed. Correct machine selection is critical. If power lines are in your work area contact the Energy Supply Authority (ESA) before work commences. Ensure all operators are briefed prior to commencement of work and that they are made aware of the presence of power lines in the vicinity. 

Ensure operators are trained – anyone involved in the safe use of MEWPs must be properly trained on the MEWP they are using and must have received a machine-specific familiarization. As this is a high risk activity and can have severe consequences managers must ensure MEWP operators, supervisors and spotters are briefed on the SSoW.

Stay outside exclusion zones – an exclusion zone is the prescribed safety envelope around live electric power lines (minimum of 10ft for operators). You must not operate a MEWP where there is potential for any part of it to enter an exclusion zone. Distances for exclusion zones can vary; these must be obtained from the relevant ESA.

Know your rescue plan – if someone has been electrocuted by arcing of electricity or has been in contact with a power line, call the emergency services immediately and call the ESA to have the power turned off. 

Follow these instructions:

  • STAY
    if you are in the platform, stay there. If you are on the ground, do not approach the MEWP and remain  
    a safe distance away as recommended by the ESA.
  • CALL
    the emergency services.
  • WAIT
    for assistance from the emergency services and ESA.


* According to data collated via IPAF’s global accident portal. The accident portal is a global facility where incidents and accidents can be reported anonymously. Data is analyzed annually for trends and used to inform training course content, improve existing guidance and identify messages of global safety campaigns. More info at: www.ipaf.org/accident