Emergency jobs test our commitment to safety. From the moment responders receive a call for a potentially dangerous job, every step along the way can test our preparedness. The constraints of an urgent job pressure us in ways that can result in mistakes. In emergencies, cutting corners to save time may mean we miss the warning signs of potential hazards, forget the necessary gear, and find ourselves in harm’s way.

The costs of mistakes escalate when you’re dealing with fallen power lines.  According to the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI) in 2017, 54% of all fatal electrical injuries occurred in the construction industry. There were also 2,210 nonfatal electrical injuries that same year, with utilities having the highest rate injuries.

That means that people working in utilities and construction must be especially vigilant. If you’re entering an area with a fallen power line, you must be hyper-aware of your surroundings and remember that safety is your top priority. While the tips below are good advice for any situation, they are especially critical when working around high-current electricity.

  1. Survey the Scene. Stop and look around. Take a mental inventory of everything in the area before you approach. Look for downed lines, fallen or compromised poles, or broken branches and debris. Take note of spots where wires or lines are laying in water or on/near fences, and take inventory of any sparking wires. Assume that any wires or cables on the ground are live and should be treated with great caution. If you don’t see these types of threats, reach out to your emergency team for guidance if you’re not sure of next steps.
  2. Setting Up the Work Area. The current gradient from wires laying on the ground is cut in half for every 2.5 to 3 feet removed from the energy source. Multiple tests show that you must keep yourself, your equipment, and the public at least 30 feet away to provide a safety buffer zone.
  3. Take Time to Do It Right. To stay safe, slow down, take a breath, and use your head. You must remain calm and focused to keep everyone safe. Take a moment to pause, concentrate on what you are doing at that moment, and make a note of the next safe steps. Whatever your role is during an emergency, double-check your work to ensure it is accurate, and the area is free of danger.
  4. Better Safe Than Sorry. When in doubt, play it safe. If you’re unsure about any aspect of your job or the site, reach out to your emergency team for guidance. Keep safety at the forefront—consider all equipment, potential conductors, and electrical lines that may conduct electricity.



Electricity travels through a variety of surfaces and materials. Known as conduction, the possibility of fallen power lines electrifying surrounding materials increases your chances of both minor and server, even deadly, electric shock.

According to OSHA:

  • A person may come in contact with both conductors in a circuit.
  • A person may provide a path between an ungrounded conductor and the ground.
  • A person may provide a path between the ground and a conducting material that is in contact with an ungrounded conductor.

The dangers of encountering electric shock are referred to as touch potential and step potential. It’s important to understand these risky situations so you can avoid electrocuting yourself and the surrounding area.



Touch potential refers to the possibility of the current traveling from the object carrying the current to the human body via touch. Touch potential occurs when a person touches an item electrified by a power line, such as a tree, fence, tower, or the line itself. Once the electrical current travels through the person, they too become a conductor for the current to travel to the ground and throughout the surrounding area.

To avoid the touch potential of an electric current, stay 30 feet back from anything that could be a potential conductor of energy. Conductive materials include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Metal
  • Water
  • Human body
  • Smoke
  • Wood
  • Rope



Step Potential is the term used to describe the current between the feet of a person. Step potential occurs when an electrical current has worked its way to the ground and, based on the resistive nature of the ground, the current has charged random spots. Because the potential risk is so unpredictable, it is essential to keep a safe distance (30 feet) away from fallen power lines.

If you find yourself closer than 30 feet to a downed power line, keep your feet close together or only allow one foot to contact the potentially energized ground.

If you find yourself in a situation where you need to walk in potentially charged areas, it is critical to take short, shuffled steps to walk safely.


It is important to understand potential injuries that can occur when working around fallen power lines. The extent of injury depends on the strength of the current conducted through the body, the path it takes through the body, and the length of time a person is subjected to the current. Injuries from even a low current can be as mild as temporary tingling sensation to consequences as severe as death. Severe shock can stop the heart and breathing muscles. The heating effects of an electrical current can cause severe burns, severe bleeding, breathing difficulty, and ventricular fibrillation.


If you or a co-worker encounter an electrical shock, when possible, turn off the source of electricity immediately. If you are unable to turn off the source, push away the item conducting the current using a dry, non-conducting object, like cardboard or plastic.

If the injury is severe, call 911. If treating another person’s injury, check for signs of breathing or circulation, including coughing, breathing, or movement. If the person shows none of these signs, begin CPR immediately. Keep yourself or the injured person warm and cover any burned areas with sterile gauze and a bandage or a clean cloth. Avoid blankets and towels as these materials tend to have loose fibers that can stick to burns.

Power Down: Stay Safe When Power Lines Fall
Article Name
Power Down: Stay Safe When Power Lines Fall
When entering an area with a fallen power line, you must be hyper-aware of your surroundings and remember that safety is your top priority.
Publisher Name
Flagger Force
Publisher Logo