Staying safe from the dangers of electrical infrastructure

Staying safe from the dangers of electrical infrastructure

UK Power Networks is on a mission to keep you safe from the often hidden dangers of electrical infrastructure. Professional Builder’s Lee Jones reports on what advice and resources are available to the trades.

“It won’t happen to me,” is an attitude which has been the cause of many accidents on site, and that’s certainly true of overhead or underground cable damage. When the hazards are hidden from view it’s easy to become complacent, but the consequences of carelessness can be counted in the avoidable casualties of these close encounters that are recorded each and every year. As the electricity network operator across London, the south east and the east of England, it is a mindset that UK Power Networks is determined to challenge, and its Be Bright, Stay Safe and Plan. Locate. Excavate campaigns are its vehicles for change.

In 2020, across the company’s networks, small to medium building companies were responsible for a third of recorded safety incidents on underground infrastructure and 12 per cent of reported overhead line contacts. What lies behind those statistics is the human cost in the harm that high voltage electricity can cause the unsuspecting, but if the proper processes are put in place potential tragedy can be prevented.

The old adage that time is money might tempt tradespeople into overlooking safety procedures but this can be a false economy. Alongside injury to life and limb, if a builder suffers flash burns from damaging a power cable, they could be unable to work for a significant period, which can have a severe impact on the income of the self-employed in particular. In addition, digging without due diligence may result in a cable damage charge levied against the contractor, whilst an employer may be considered legally negligent if one of their employees was injured.

The Energy Networks Association has produced a series of excavation and overhead power line films in collaboration with other energy distribution and transmission network operators with the advice of ‘Plan, Scan and Think before you Dig’ for underground electricity cables and gas pipelines and ‘Look Out, Look Up’ for overhead power lines.

The UK’s biggest electricity distributor, UK Power Networks has also initiated its own Plan. Locate. Excavate campaign, a safety message which encapsulates the necessary processes in three succinct and simple words. Whenever a job requires digging, cable plans must be checked, followed by further precautions. Cables do not run in straight lines and natural ground movement can, over time, shift depth and position. Obtaining cable plans before starting the job, digging trial holes and the use of a Cable Avoidance Tool (CAT should be regarded as routine, as well as ensuring that all staff are fully trained and well versed in the use of the equipment.)

Excavators should not be used within 0.5m of an identified cable, and communication is key to keeping site personnel safe. That means making sure that all those involved in the build are aware of all the above processes, and the location of assets, including sub-contractors, and any tradespeople that will subsequently be working on the same site.

UK Power Networks can provide its own cable plans across London, the south-east and east of England but also counts Line Search Before You Dig as one of its pledge partners which covers the wider areas of Great Britain. The latter is a free-to-use online search service where a builder can check their works against the location of hundreds of thousands of miles of underground and overhead assets before a project starts. It’s not just digging, because a tradesperson can unwittingly disturb overhead power lines with lifting equipment, scaffolding or ladders, whilst hand-held pneumatic and power tools can equally pose a threat. In each instance, however, the same principles hold firm – and proper planning is at their heart.

Contact with electricity can result in serious burns, life-changing injuries or a fatality. The answer lies in the invaluable resources that UK Power Networks and its partners provides, and the organisation is urging the industry to make good use of them to stay safe.

To access the UK Power Networks safety pages scan the QR code below or visit

An Electricity Networks Association video powerfully conveys the consequences of cutting corners when it comes to safe excavation. To view the film, visit

It is equally imperative that everyone on site, including delivery drivers, are aware of any dangers. The same organisation has produced another hard-hitting film that graphically illustrates that very issue, visit

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