Are you in for a shock?

Host: Workplace Health and Safety Queensland.
Written by Fiona O’Sullivan, Manager, Agriculture Unit, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland.

Friday is World Day for Safety and Health at Work and Workers’ Memorial Day, and with that in mind, this is the first of five blogs produced by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland discussing the importance of making your workplace a safe one.

Too many people who work on the land suffer serious injury or lose their life doing what they love. The agriculture industry is going through immense change, with technology and science playing a huge role in advancing the industry. One thing that has not changed is the fatality and serious injury rate, and the circumstances that lead to those events.

I’m the manager of the Agriculture Unit at Workplace Health and Safety Queensland (WHSQ). My team and I are passionate, and some say obsessed, about making sure that everyone we meet comes away with a little more knowledge about workplace safety than they did before they met us.

Not so long ago, as I drove through the front gate of Rob and Sarah Cook’s property near Bundaberg for a film on stockyard safety, I wasn’t thinking about electrical safety at all. However, a few metres inside their front fence, was a power pole. It takes their power supply from the high voltage lines on the boundary, and directs it underground to their sheds, silos and home. This single pole with all that power turned on a light bulb (yes, pun intended) and made me to ponder about country folk working around electricity.

One of the key areas we are working hard on at WHSQ is electrical safety, especially promoting awareness of the dangers of overhead powerlines in rural areas. In 2016 alone, 12 workers received severe electric shocks – three of which were fatal.

To help spread the word about the dangers of working around overhead powerlines, we got together with key players like Ergon Energy, Energex and Powerlink mid last year to form a working group. Its main aim is to educate and raise awareness of the issue to reduce the number of nasty incidents.

We’re determined to make sure all those who work on the land are fully aware of the risks from overhead powerlines because everyone deserves to go home safely, each and every day to their loved ones.

While I encourage those I meet to watch our film, electrical safety in the agriculture industry, I also urge all rural property owners to download a map of their property from Google Earth and mark up their power lines and underground service lines. They can then use this map to show anyone who works on the property exactly where everything is. All workers and contractors need to know this information because it could save their life.

I always remind people about to work around overhead or underground powerlines to stop, take a moment to think about the job, and answer the following;

  • Do you know your exclusion zones?
  • Do you know the reach of your equipment?
  • Do you have a spotter who knows what they’re doing?
  • Do you know what to do if an incident occurs?

Once you have answered yes to all of the above, then;

  • Ensure neither the height nor reach of vehicles and equipment can cause any part of them to enter an exclusion zone. (Check out our user-friendly case study film about electrical exclusion zones or visit qld.gov.au for general info).
  • If possible, arrange for powerlines to be de-energised or relocated away from the work area before starting the job.
  • Use a safety observer on the ground to keep equipment out of the exclusion zone.
  • Arrange for the electricity entity to provide a safety advice for you – give them a call and get them talk to install markers on overhead lines. You can also seek permission to paint the power poles, or just mark the exclusion zone on the ground.

You can never get enough information about the dangers of overhead powerlines, so we’ve also produced a series of industry specific brochures, including one for those who work in the rural sector. For a copy of that brochure, email safe@justice.qld.gov.au. More information on electrical safety in the rural industry is available on our website.

You can also call 1300 362 128 for more information.

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