UK Power Networks is urging the industry to take care around underground electric cables and overhead Power lines. Professional Builder’s Lee Jones finds out more.
There is an old adage that time is money but, when it comes to electricity infrastructure, taking time out to consider the consequences of a close encounter could save you from serious harm. UK Power Networks owns and maintains cables and power lines across London, the south-east and east of England. Its message is very clear: builders should not be interfering with its assets, moving or altering the supply – that’s a job that should be left to them.
“Last year the number of incidents of interfering with the electricity network tripled,” explains UK Power Networks’ Ros Forbes. “Between April 2022 and March 2023 there have been over 1,000 instances of interference and UK Power Networks staff are now facing unsafe sites on a regular basis”
“These can include demolitions that have been carried out without waiting for a disconnection or a temporary connection, or maintenance and improvement projects, including extensions and basements. Lots of these sites are relatively open which can result in a danger to the tradesman on the job, members of the general public, residents, as well as to our own staff.”
So what is the safe path for tradespeople to follow?
When a contractor requires a service alteration – such as a disconnection, new connection or upgrade – this should be directed to UK Power Networks and a site survey will then be undertaken.
All too often, however, UK Power Networks surveyors are arriving on site to find that the supply has already been moved, with assets often damaged or discarded. “We’ve seen instances where our live assets have been left in wheelie bins and live service cables hung up on fences,” continues Ros, “and that has potential to cause life changing injuries – or even death.”
It is the job of UK Power Networks to make sure that electricity flows safely and reliably, but it is also devoting considerable resources to educating builders on the importance of safety around electricity cables and power lines. “Tradespeople are a key target for us in order to communicate the safety message,” concludes Ros. “In their eagerness to crack on with the job, some builders are putting themselves and others at considerable risk, and every accident is wholly avoidable.”
For further information on UK Power Networks, visit: Distribution Network Operator | UK Power Networks.
Be Bright, Stay Safe
Think before you dig is one of the core messages from the UK’s biggest electricity distributor as well as its Be Bright, Stay Safe campaign. It’s about raising the awareness of the dangers of excavation around the underground network and avoiding contact with overhead cables. There is a wealth of resources available, including cable plans from Line Search Before You Dig (LSBUD) and UK Power Networks itself.
What more should builders be doing to ensure everyone goes home safe and well?
Locate, identify, and clearly mark where cables are and make sure everyone working on site is aware. Underground utilities may not run in straight lines and can be routed around obstacles – or change depth – so it’s important to confirm the location of cables by using a Cable Avoidance Tool (CAT). Buried services should be clearly marked before excavating – with trial holes dug if necessary – and, when you’re ready to make the earth move, do not use mechanical excavators or power tools within 0.5m of the suspected route.
For more on avoiding dangers from underground services from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) visit: Avoiding danger from underground services – HSG47 (hse.gov.uk).
Domestic and Commercial Properties
The same principles apply when working in a domestic or commercial property and the advice is just as clear: Before drilling into walls, roof areas or floors use a cable avoidance tool, and know where the service cables enter the building. Communication is key so make sure you are aware of the location of wiring and that the trades that follow you on the job are just as well informed.
Overhead Power Lines
When working in the vicinity of overhead power lines look up and look out. Work away from overhead power lines when handling long items, such as scaffold poles, or when using lifting and digging equipment and make sure that delivery drivers are aware of the location of overhead lines.
For further information on the UK Power Networks Be Bright, Stay Safe Campaign, and for details on cable plans, visit: Safety advice and resources | UK Power Networks.
Line Search Before You Dig can also provide these plans and you can find more details at Home – LinesearchbeforeUdig (lsbud.co.uk).
To access HSE advice on avoiding danger from overhead power lines visit: Avoiding danger from overhead power lines (hse.gov.uk).