Working safely near overhead powerlines

There are many hazards associated with working near powerlines. Electricity can be extremely dangerous and can cause serious injury or even death.

To protect people working near powerlines and manage these hazards, safe clearance distances have been established in the Electricity (General) Regulations 2012.

This page outlines the regulations and clearance distances.

Dangers of working near powerlines

Electricity can flash over a gap. A person or piece of machinery can be some distance from a powerline and still be in danger.

In addition, aerial lines swing in wind and sag due to heat. This movement must be allowed for in any clearance distance.

Safe clearance distances for machinery

The minimum safe distances for operating cranes, machinery, vehicles or vessels with elevating components near powerlines are set out in the Electricity (General) Regulations 2012. The regulations also prescribe clearance distances for structures such as buildings and scaffolds – see below.

The minimum clearance distance is measured from the part of the machinery (including its load) that is closest to the conductor (powerline wire). The regulations set different clearance distances depending on the voltage of the powerline.

The prescribed clearance distances are legal requirements and must be adhered to at all times. Any breach of these distances can result in severe injuries and even death.

For help and advice with regard to the regulations contact the Office of the Technical Regulator.

Safe approach limits for people

In addition to the minimum clearance distances set out in the Electricity (General) Regulations 2012 for machinery and structures, there are safe approach limits to be maintained by people working near powerlines.

The minimum safe approach limit is measured from the closest conductor on the powerline to the closest part of the person - this includes any article of clothing worn by the person or conductive tool or object held by the person.

It is very important to take into account the safe approach limits when planning to carry out work near powerlines. They may affect the work practices you need to use - eg when constructing structures such as scaffolds.

Table 1: Safe approach limits for people as prescribed by the Electricity (General) Regulations 2012 (Regulation 64(3))
Voltage 240 V to 415 V 7.6 kV to 11 kV 19 kV to 33 kV 66 kV 132 kV 275 kV
Approach limit - with risk assessment  1.0 m  2.0 m  3.0 m  4.0 m  5.0 m  6.0 m
Approach limit - normal persons  3.0 m  3.0 m  3.0 m  4.0 m  5.0 m  6.0 m

Operating cranes and elevating machinery near powerlines

The minimum safe distances for operating cranes, machinery, vehicle or vessels with an elevating component or shear legs near powerlines are set out in the Electricity (General) Regulations 2012.

To protect people and property, minimum safe clearances from powerlines, including clearances to the operation of machinery are prescribed. It is important to understand that these prescribed distances apply from the closest part of the machinery, including its load, to the closest conductor of the powerline, at all times.

Prescribed distances are dependent on the voltage of the powerline. You must ensure that the voltage has been correctly identified. In addition, Australian Standard AS2550 (Cranes, hoists and winches – Safe use), describes the operation of cranes and other elevating working platforms in proximity to powerlines. This standard provides general guidance regarding safe working practices for machinery near powerlines, with clearances depending on whether the work is conducted with or without a spotter.

To work to the prescribed distances, you must also be able to show that you have allowed for any likely movement (wind effects, mechanical/ hydraulic, swinging of crane loads) of both the powerline and the machinery, including operator error. The clearances distances in the regulations make no allowance for movement of the cables, machinery or judgement errors. They are absolute, and cannot be breached at any time. Any breach of the clearance puts you and others in immediate danger of electric shock.

Table 2: Minimum clearance distances for cranes, earthmoving machinery, elevating work platforms and other machinery from powerlines (in metres)
Voltage Minimum distance without spotter AS2550.1 Minimum distance with spotter AS2550.1 Minimum distance with risk assessment Electricity (General) Regulations 2012
240 V 6.4 m 3.0 m 1.0 m
415 V 6.4 m 3.0 m 1.0 m
7,600 V 6.4 m 3.0 m 1.5 m
11,000 V 6.4 m 3.0 m 1.5 m
19,000 V 6.4 m 3.0 m 1.5 m
33,000 V 6.4 m 3.0 m 1.5 m
66,000 V 6.4 m 3.0 m 3.0 m
132,000 V (Pole) 6.4 m 3.0 m 3.0 m
132,000 V (Tower) 10.0 m 8.0 m 3.0 m
275,000 V 10.0 m 8.0 m 4.0 m

Diagram for table 2

For fully insulated conductors (powerline wires) phone the Office of the Technical Regulator for advice.

Risk assessment and additional safety requirements

To operate machinery safely near powerlines at the minimum clearance required by the Electricity (General) Regulations 2012:

  1. The voltage must be identified and
  2. A spotter (competent person who is suitably qualified (whether by experience, training, or both) with the sole duty of observing and warning against unsafe approach of the crane, its lifting attachment or its load to powerlines) carries out spotting duties at all times and
  3. A documented risk assessment is carried out before any work commences, in consultation with all relevant parties involved in the work and
  4. The electricity network operator is notified before commencing work and
  5. Any conditions specified by the electricity network operator or Technical Regulator must be complied with.

Special situations

In some situations it may be permitted to lift a load above powerlines. Lifting above powerlines is only permitted subject to the following conditions.

  • Alternative work methods are explored as a first preference.
  • The voltage of the powerlines is identified.
  • Any conditions specified by the electricity network operator or Technical Regulator are complied with.
  • The Office of the Technical Regulator is notified for powerline voltages lower than 1,000 volts AC (low voltage).
  • Written permission is obtained from the electricity network operator for voltages higher than 1,000 volts AC (high voltage). Office of the Technical Regulator must also be notified when lifting above high voltage powerlines.

Scaffolding near powerlines

Minimum safe clearances for structures including scaffolds built near powerlines are set out in the Electricity (General) Regulations 2012.

  • Safe clearance distances depend on the voltage of the powerline. The higher the voltage of the powerline the greater the clearance distances should be.
  • The minimum safe clearance distances are measured from the powerline to the final position of the scaffold.
  • You must ensure that no part of the scaffold, person, equipment or material can breach the person safe approach limits during the construction and dismantling of the scaffold.
  • If these clearances cannot be achieved contact the electricity network operator, SA Power Networks, to arrange for the powerlines to be turned off, or consider other work methods. This may require a Network Access Permit.

Australian standard AS/NZS 4576 (Guidelines for scaffolding), takes a different approach to determine appropriate clearances to powerlines. It also recommends that where practical, powerlines should be turned off during the construction of scaffolds. Where the clearance distance advised by AS/NZS 4576 is less than that prescribed by the regulations, you must comply with the legal safe clearance distances set by the regulations.

Table 3: Clearance distances for buildings and structures including scaffolds
(Electricity (General) Regulations 2012 Schedule 1, Table 1)
Voltage 240 V to 415 V 7.6k V to 33k V 66k V 132k V (Pole) 132k V (Tower) 275k V
Horizontal distance 
(Dimension C)
 1.5 m 3.1 m  5.5 m  15 m  20 m  25 m 
Vertical distance
(Dimension A)
3.7 m 5.5 m 6.7 m - - -

Network access permit

If the safe clearance distance prescribed by the regulations cannot be maintained, you may need to apply for a network access permit from the electricity network operator, SA Power Networks.

The permit will ensure the powerlines will be turned off until the permit is returned.

A network access permit is a written document issued by the electricity network operator. You need to sign the document upon receipt and retain it until your operation is completed. While you are holding the document, powerlines will be turned off. They will be only turned on when you return the document to the electricity network operator.

The permit and its conditions must be clearly explained to you before you sign it.

To apply for a network access permit in South Australia, contact the SA Power Networks Builders and Contractors line on 1300 650 014 or visit the SA Power Networks website

Visual safety aids – tiger tails

When working, operating machinery or erecting scaffolds near overhead powerlines, it is recommended that you contact SA Power Networks to install 'tiger tails' on the closest low voltage lines. Please note that tiger tails are only visual indicators and do not insulate the powerline. They cannot be used on high voltage lines.

When using tiger tails on powerlines, you must still maintain legal clearance distances at all times.

What to do if a vehicle contacts a powerline

When a vehicle comes into contact with powerlines there is a high risk of electric shock. If this happens, you should immediately contact SA Power Networks on 13 13 66 and stay still until the power is switched off. However, you should evacuate the area if:

  • there is a fire
  • no-one else is aware of the situation
  • the powerline could fall on you.

If a vehicle strikes a powerline, it may be necessary for everyone to evacuate the car or truck to prevent injury. Several steps must be followed to maximise your safety, including:

  • Jump out of the vehicle, ensuring you do not touch the vehicle and ground at the same time.
  • Calmly walk or shuffle away using small steps.
  • Call SA Power Networks immediately on 13 13 66.
  • Do not return to the vehicle until after the area has been made safe.
  • Keep other people well clear.

If you remain in your vehicle, no-one should touch you or the vehicle until the all-clear has been given by SA Power Networks staff.

In an emergency call 13 13 66. For an ambulance or police assistance, call 000.

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Page last updated 19 July 2017

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