Most tree trimming professionals ultimately have to work near utility and overhead power lines at various points during their careers. After all, trees reach high up into the air and have shared space with utility lines.
But, it’s prudent to follow a set of electrical safety guidelines when working near utility lines. Electrocution is the second most common cause of death among tree service workers.
Therefore, safety should be the golden rule when trimming trees near electrical lines. The first thing that any tree service company needs to understand is that you have to meet and follow OSHA requirements before you can clear trees around power lines.
OSHA acknowledges three different levels of employees when it comes to working around power lines. But, only one is qualified and permitted to work within 10 feet of electrically powered overhead lines or equipment. These workers are known as line-clearance professionals.
If your tree service company doesn’t have one of these trained workers, it’s even more vital for you to understand the complexities surrounding the tree trimming business and power lines.
Overhead Power Lines and Tree Trimming 101
The power grid in the United States is a complex system that provides many comforts and luxuries. But, working around electricity is something that demands respect, especially for tree care professionals.
Every tree worker should have a basic understanding of electrical equipment, even if they’re not certified to work within 10 feet of the lines.
Typically, on a pole, there will be three levels of overhead power lines. The lines with the most voltage will always be the highest from the ground. Conversely, lines with the least voltage are closest to the ground.
Top-level power lines are transmission lines. They’re usually thinner and uncoated and carry anywhere from 345,000 to 765,000 volts of electricity.
The second level of power lines on a pole are secondary lines. Secondary lines carry power that has been stepped down through a transformer. While these power lines can range from 1,000 to 69,000 volts overhead, they’re reduced down to 408 volts as they enter homes and businesses. Secondary lines are thicker and coated for protection against contact with trees and other elements.
The third level of lines on a pole are communication lines for TV cable and phones. These lines carry less than 1,000 volts of electricity.
Lastly, there are usually two lines that extend to homes and businesses. The line that comes off the secondary wires from the pole power line is the Service Drop, and it carries power to the home or business, channeling 220 volts of electricity. The second line is usually a single, thin wire that branches off from the communication lines to provide cable and phone connection to the home or business.
Tree service workers should always treat all power lines as though their life depends on it, because it likely does.
Electrical Safety Considerations to Take Seriously
Trees that are in contact with power lines can cause a serious threat to anyone touching those trees.
Here are a few electrical safety guidelines that you and your tree service workers should keep in mind:
- When dealing with storm work, always remain alert. Broken trees and branches could easily pull power lines down or low to the ground. This can cause objects like metal fences, other trees, play structures, vehicles, or even the ground, to become energized.
- If you arrive at a job and there are power lines on the property, inspect those lines to ensure everything is still intact, and there are no possible hazards.
- Treat any downed power line as though it is energized, and call the power company immediately.
- Make sure you stay more than 10 feet away from power lines. If the line is visibly active, remain extra cautious and stay even further away.
- Try to prevent the public from having a fatal encounter with a downed wire by alerting anyone who goes near it.
Always remember that electricity can travel through the trees’ branches, trunks, and leaves, and in return, that can cause an electrical shock.
Leave the Tree Service to Your Workers and Electricity To The Power Company
Let’s face it. The tree service business is your wheelhouse. Electrical matters are best left for the power company to handle.
There are many instances where your tree trimming project will have to be at least partially completed by the power company’s tree contractors.
Whenever you’re in a questionable situation involving electrical safety or when the 10-foot guidelines apply, you should contact the power company.
In many instances, the power company can de-energize a line so that your tree trimming crew can complete the work.
This is a very common practice and should always be considered an option before working too closely to electrical lines, risking electrocution, or potentially having a fallen limb disconnect power lines from a home or business.
Manage Expectations With the Client to Minimize Frustrations
Your homeowner clients or even the businesses who contract your tree trimming services often don’t think of the dangers and complexities of utilities and trees. That’s why tree care professionals need to be knowledgeable in power line basics.
Homeowners sometimes get frustrated when tree service companies tell them they’re not certified to perform tree work in proximity to utility lines.
Explain the dangers of being near power lines and help your client understand that sometimes residential tree crews must work in conjunction with the power company’s tree contractors or linemen.
Typically, the power company has to be involved because of a dangerous situation, and most of them will send their tree contractors out at no charge or for nominal fees. Inform the homeowner that this can save them money.
Because of your expertise, a homeowner may ask your advice on their landscape ideas. This is an opportunity for you to advise them and establish a good working rapport. Guide them in avoiding larger species of trees that can become problematic in the future. Small ornamental shrubs are a better choice and won’t invade power lines down the road.
Remind your client that larger trees that will eventually grow near or under power lines will ultimately need to be trimmed. Homeowners appreciate advice that can save them money in the long run while keeping electrical safety guidelines in place.
When you’re in the tree trimming business, working around overhead power lines is inevitable. But, as a tree service business, you play an important role in ensuring that every job is performed safely.
If the work is too close to power lines, utility poles, or equipment, it’s wise to contact the power company to evaluate the situation. They could determine that the job is better left to their tree contractors. But, they might also decide that a team effort between your tree service company and their tree trimming crew and technicians is beneficial for everyone involved.
Along with the safety considerations of tree trimming work, working around power lines adds another dimension of safety consideration and practices.
Stay informed and remember knowledge is power. The more you know, the safer it is for everyone concerned when working near trees and electrical wires. Electrical safety is always a top priority.
An insurance company specializing in tree service insurance is your best bet in finding the coverage your business needs against general liability claims.