Electrical safety advocates urge people to be careful during any summer fun or home improvement project.
Ontario has seen a sharp increase in power line contacts involving members of the public in recent years, especially during the height of the pandemic.
Patrick Falzon, a power line safety specialist with the Ontario Electric Safety Authority (ESA), says the province saw an average of 16 to 20 such incidents reported each year between 2012 and 2018.
But those numbers have since trended much higher.
“In 2019, we had 75 power line contacts,” Falzon said, citing data that includes both incidents and incidents where people were injured.
That number went up to 82 in 2020, then dropped to 67 in 2021. Numbers for last year are not yet available.
It is not clear precisely why there has been an increase in reported cases, although part of the increase has come as people have spent more time at home during the pandemic.
“What ended up happening is people were confined to their home or property, so homeowners decided to tackle the do-it-yourself type of projects,” Falzon said.
Those projects can risk hitting power lines, either above ground or below ground, if precautions are not taken.
trees and vegetation
Trees and other vegetation are factors that utility providers have to manage, and arrange to do so.
Falzon said that’s something Ontario utilities have to do for the lines they own.
As Daniel McNeil, a corporate spokesman for Toronto Hydro, explained by email, the big-city utility “is responsible for maintaining the trees and vegetation around its equipment” and uses a planned pruning cycle to do so, in addition to any work-related emergency you undertake.
Still, the ESA website list safety tips to take care of trees and do landscaping tasks at home.
These safety issues are relevant to people who live anywhere in Canada where there are power lines. And other utility companies pay attention to them too.
In 2021, BC Hydro reported seeing a concerning 30% increase in “backyard logging” incidents, which were reported during the first year of the pandemic. Just like in Ontario, people, at the time, were doing a lot of work on their homes and property and dozens were near power lines. Fortunately, this rally appears to have since receded, according to Susie Rieder, a spokesperson for BC Hydro.
Call before you dig
Homeowners have heard it before, but it bears repeating: Call before you dig.
The security mantra refers to the need to call in professionals to help you understand where infrastructure, such as buried power lines or gas lines, is located on a given property.
It’s important to know if you plan to put up a fence, add a tree or shrub to a yard, or do any work that requires digging, whether at home, in a cabin, or elsewhere.
“Always do a trace and make sure you’re not contacting anything you’re not aware of,” said Brooke Fraser, Hydro One customer operations manager.
In Ontario, homeowners can call Ontario OneCall — a service that puts people who want to dig in contact with the owners of the infrastructure, who will be in charge of marking the location of buried lines, pipes and cables. In British Columbia, anyone planning to dig need to contact BC 1 Call.
Manitobans can contact Click before you dig MB to avoid making contact with buried utility-related hazards.
Bruce Owen, Manitoba Hydro’s media relations officer, notes that with “more and more stuff” hidden, the need to make that call isn’t going away.
Stay Alert After Storms
Hydro One’s Fraser said people should also be aware of how to stay safe after summer storms.
“You may not always be able to see downed lines that have been knocked down by trees,” Fraser said.
If a downed line is detected, Fraser and other safety advocates remind the public to keep their distance and always assume the line remains live.
“Don’t doubt it,” he said. “Just walk away and make sure you call to make that situation safe.”
Stay out of the lines
Over the years, there have been many tragic stories involving people coming into contact with power lines.
Deaths or injuries have occurred during activities that would otherwise be very innocuous, such as when children play outdoors or when adults also participate in leisure activities.
With this in mind, it is important to consider where power lines are located when preparing for these same activities.
“Sometimes when these infrastructures are not ideal,” Fraser said.
Fraser said a family may want to install a swing set or other play equipment, but it’s important to understand the hazards that may be present before installing them, and also to make sure any leisure activities take place in a safe area.
The circumstances of power line contacts involving leisure activities vary, but the problem often arises when a person does not see the danger that is present.
ESA’s Falzon discussed an incident that occurred in Ontario last year involving a man flying a drone. The device got stuck in a tree, which adjoined a power line that was not visible.
“There was dense foliage around it,” Falzon explained.
The individual used a powerful object to try to retrieve the object. That person died as a result of subsequent contact with the power line.
Falzon said a similar hazard could develop with other tools, devices or toys under similar circumstances.
His advice is to always “look up and look out” to stay safe.
Owen of Manitoba Hydro echoed that message.
“Take that second to look up,” Owen said, reiterating the dangerous reality that if you touch a line, you could die.