SafeWork SA is adding its voice to warnings from SA Power Networks about the potentially fatal risk associated with contacting or getting too close to electrical infrastructure.

As the huge clean up progresses along the River Murray, the electricity distributor is reminding community members and industry – including the waste management, demolition and construction sectors – of the risk of working around energised powerlines.

It follows recent SafeWork SA warnings to businesses and shack owners along the River Murray of the dangers of handling asbestos when cleaning up flood-damaged properties when water levels subside.

SAPN Head of Corporate Affairs Paul Roberts said people operating large machinery and undertaking demolition and construction work also needed to be mindful of the proximity of powerlines.

'In these situations, electrical risks are not always top of mind, but the reality is we have re-energised the network along the River and touching or getting too close to powerlines could be potentially fatal,' he said.

'We urge property owners to engage a qualified electrician to undertake a safety check of all electrical wiring and carry out any repair works that are needed. It is illegal to do this work yourself and may put others in danger.

'Our concern is there will be pressure for work to be done quickly and that it may potentially be undertaken by inexperienced operators.'

About 4000 properties along the river, including shacks, homes and businesses have been inundated or impacted by flood waters in some way after the Murray reached heights not seen for more than 50 years.

SA Power Networks says the specific industry risks include:

  • getting too close to or contacting overhead powerlines while undertaking work (trucks including tip trucks, cranes, forklifts, erecting scaffolding etc)
  • digging up underground powerlines visit Before You Dig for powerlines locations
  • some operators moving, connecting or disconnecting electrical equipment when they are not qualified or certified and do not have confirmation the equipment is de-energised.

'We advise property owners that they should take every precaution in visiting their properties and that they do not interfere with electrical infrastructure of any kind until we have visited and they have received confirmation that it is safe either from us or their electrician,' Mr Roberts said.

The Office of the Technical Regulator (OTR) has information about safely working around powerlines on its Working safely near overhead powerlines page.

SafeWork SA also has several video resources on its website including:

  • Working near overhead powerlines - Before working near overhead powerlines, it's important to understand the safe approach limits for people and minimum safe clearance distances for machinery to ensure work is carried out safely.
  • Building near power lines - How to safely build a structure, including a scaffold near an overhead powerline.
  • When things go wrong - What to do if you strike a gas or power line.

SafeWork SA has also been warning River Murray residents, shack owners and emergency response crews of the dangers of handling asbestos when flood waters subside.

Asbestos is present in one in three Australian homes, as well as public and commercial buildings.

This includes hundreds of river shacks and homes, particularly those built or renovated from the mid-1980s to 1990 or earlier.

Asbestos causes cancer and if not disposed of properly it puts workers and the community’s health at risk.

People cleaning-up after the flood or undertaking any repairs, renovation or demolition work are being urged to become familiar with the type of products that may contain asbestos and where to find them.

The South Australian Government asbestos website has a page to help identify asbestos in the home.

By law, asbestos waste must be taken to a licensed transfer stations or waste depots.

It is recommended that you contact your local transfer station or waste depot for advice.

Go to the EPA’s Wastes containing asbestos – removal, transport and disposal for a list of licensed waste facilities.

It is illegal to dispose of asbestos in the normal rubbish collection, and a crime to dump it in the street, or on vacant land.

SafeWork SA Acting Executive Director Glenn Farrell said asbestos poses a significant health risk and requires thought when dealing with.

‘As we clean up damaged properties, homeowners and emergency responders need to consider the risk posed by this material and take appropriate action to control the risks,’ he said.

‘Dumping asbestos is also an offence and should not happen.

‘Illegally dumped asbestos puts an unnecessary strain on public resources; resources that could be better spent on other vital community services.’

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