What can happen if I do yard work around a power line?

February 5, 2014

Before doing any jobs outdoors, make sure you’re not working near a power line. It can be deadly to touch one buried underground or strung between poles.

If the simple act of pouring water into your clothes iron without first unplugging it is dangerous, imagine the danger involved when you’re dealing with a live power line. If you’re thinking about doing some work around the house—whether it’s installing a pool or a hot tub or trimming trees and bushes—the first thing on your to-do list should be a quick survey of the yard to check if there is a power line nearby.

The easiest path

Electrical circuits are designed so that electricity will travel from point A to point B, then return to its source. To do so, electricity always follows the easiest path. When you plug in your hair dryer, the power runs into the wire to get to the appliance then returns to its starting point. The electricity forms a circuit, or an electric current. But we have to be careful, because electricity can escape the circuit at any moment.

Here is an example: you decide to cut the branch of a tree that is blocking the sun from your deck. Trimmer in hand, you get right to work. Your tool approaches the power line and—bang! In less than a millisecond, the electricity escapes though a tiny fissure, uses your trimmer as a bridge, and carries on through you, to the ground. Because the human body is an excellent conductor of electricity, you will pay the price with a fall, burns, or even fatal electrocution.

A fallen power line? Stay away!

Get away from a fallen power line as quickly as possible. And if an electric line pole is down, even if it is no longer embedded in the ground, there could still be tension in the lines. That tension is a risk to everything around it. Do not attempt to help someone who is in contact with such wires or you will be putting your own life in danger as well. Get yourself to safety immediately and call 911.

What about birds?

If power lines are so dangerous, how come birds can perch on them without getting electrocuted? It’s because birds only touch one wire at a time, so their bodies cannot act as conductors for the current. A bird that touches two wires at once, or a downed wire and the ground at the same time, would be electrocuted.

Leave the work to the professionals

If the job you’d like done is near a power line, either above ground or buried, consider calling in a professional to get the work done safely. This is especially important if you’d like to have a pool or jacuzzi installed. A contractor can excavate the hole and a master electrician can install the wiring.

Owners of existing pools should have their electrical systems checked periodically and updated if need be. The thing to remember is that construction contractors, tree-trimmers, landscapers, excavation companies, and electricians all know how to work safely near power lines.

What can happen if I do yard work around a power line?
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