High Voltage Alert
By Kurt Glaeseman
It happens all too often. An innocentlooking
overhead wire melts into a
benign landscape. A moment of
inattention or carelessness is followed
by a frantic call and screaming sirens.
We’ve all followed the stories: four
scout leaders erecting a tent at a Boy
Scout Jamboree; an irrigation worker
moving aluminum pipe in an alfalfa
field; a rescue squad sifting through
wet debris left by a hurricane. It’s not
hard to generalize the scenario to a logging
operator harvesting under a
power line or near a powerline corridor. Taller machines, longer booms,
obscured vision, inadequate cautionary
directives all can put an operator,
machinery, transmission lines and
power supply at risk. One utility company
is ahead of the curve: Bonneville
Power Administration in the Pacific
Northwest has embarked on an aggressive
proactive safety program designed
especially for workers located
under or near overhead power lines.
Electrical Lines at the Goshen,
Oregon, BPA Substation
The BPA Logger Safety booth at the
2005 and 2006 Oregon Logging Conference
in Eugene drew a steady and
enthusiastic crowd. Journeyman Maintenance
Lineman Bruce Bashor and
Natural Resource Specialist Ben Tilley,
both from the Goshen, Ore. substation,
handed out brochures, monitored a
VCR tape, and fielded hundreds of
questions about logging safety and
electrical line dangers. Some operators
requested a second viewing of the"Stay Alive” and “Danger Trees”
tape…and then requested a copy for
their crew’s safety meeting.
Bashor reports that outages from
logging or heavy equipment activity
are all too common, so the focus of the
booth was to simultaneously improve
communication between the industries
and to promote safety. “When we lose
a line,” says Bashor, “it’s a huge deal
with a lot of consequences. Thousands
of customers may be without power.
An operator can be maimed or killed.
Equipment can suffer major damage.
Bonneville Power can come back and
demand financial restitution.”
Heavy Timber & Miles of Line
Bonneville Power Administration
(BPA) is a major utility, supplying power
to parts of Oregon, Washington, Idaho,
Montana, Wyoming, Utah and California.
Coincidentally these are heavy timber-
producing states, and BPAmaintains
15,000 miles of lines within them. Traditionally
loggers and the utility companies
have gotten along well, with minor
conflicts over the destruction of access
roads and culverts. But both industries
are becoming more aware of increased
hazards as loggers secure harvest plans
and related jobs on or near easements.
Tilley and Bashor hear the horror
stories firsthand. They relate the incident
of the operator who walked a
yarder into a line and blew every tire
off, and of the logger who dropped a
tree on a line and then himself became a
path for 4200 amps…and immediate
ventricular fibrillation. The process of
electricity going through a body often
appears in an autopsy report as a sober
warning: Cause of Death: Electrocution.
The orderly processes outlined in
BPA’s tapes and brochures are easily
absorbed and incorporated into safety
meetings. Following are some general
• Electricity seeks a path to ground.
This can be metal, trees, humans,
and the ground itself.
• Voltage, heat, smoke, wind, dust, humidity
and mist in the air can all affect
an electrical field.
• Power lines are not insulated. Never
touch a downed line. Keep your
• Under the right circumstances, the
amount of current needed to light a
10-watt bulb is more than enough
to kill you. Metal objects located
near transmission towers or power
lines can be trouble.
• High voltage power lines often sag
into a danger zone during hot
weather or high usage periods.
• Contact BPA or the utility involved if
you plan to log in or near their easement
or beneath their power lines.
They may want to de-energize the
line or notify customers of work.
• Identify any pole or structure numbers
in the immediate area.
• Describe the type of logging activity
and the machinery involved. Include
heights of machinery.
• Give the name and contact number
of the person in charge of the operation.
• Offer to meet with utility representatives
about dangerous trees or
• Review basic First Aid procedures
with operators and crew.
Attention to Details:
• Look before you log!
• Do not refuel vehicles or generators
near a transmission tower or powerline
corridor. Sparks can ignite
• Nothing under a power line should
be higher than 14’ from the ground.
• Maintain a minimum of 20’ from any
line—that’s with equipment, machinery
and downed trees.
• Do not use an electronic detonator
within 1000’ of a transmission line.
• Do not work alone.
Basic Disaster Plan:
• If contact is made with a power line,
try to swing the piece of equipment
out of the power line without tearing
• Stay in the vehicle. There could be a
second shock when the line tries to
• If an operator needs to evacuate from
a piece of equipment, don’t step
onto the ground. Jump as far as
possible to get maximum distance
from the equipment. Don’t let
hands lag behind. Never touch the
ground and the equipment at the
• Secure the area. Keep all others at a
• Don’t do anything in terms of moving
power lines or electrical structures.
• Call 9-1-1 if medical help is needed.
• If a person is down, you may need to
check vitals, airways, circulation,
breathing. CPR may be necessary.
• If the victim is connected and can’t
release, try to knock him loose with
a stick. Don’t grab him—you’ll be
the next victim.
• Call the power company to de-energize
the line and to send trained
personnel to the site. Include exact
location and the sign numbers from
poles or towers.
• Remember: The biggest First Aid
measure is to make sure the situation
doesn’t happen in the first
Natural Resource Officer Ben Tilley
(long-sleeved shirt) and
Lineman Bruce Bashor from
Bonneville Power Administration's
Goshen, Oregon, Substation
Don’t Cover Up
No one likes to make a bad mistake.
But Bashor points out that it is counterproductive
to try to cover up a tree
that dropped into a line. High tech
routing and spotting isolates the exact
point of such an infraction, and
helicopters may be on the scene
immediately. The best course of action
is to call the power company and report
“We’ve gone on the road and spent
hours educating and explaining,” says
Bashor. “The degree of our success is
hard to measure. There’s no way to
know when our proactive approach
has prevented an accident or saved
someone’s life.” Again, aggressive education
is the key. There’s no getting
around it in a high-voltage world:
Safety Is No Accident.
Equipment “fried” by electrical current.
How can this highline
safety angle be worked
into your company’s existing
program? BPA is more
than willing to help. They’ll supply
the VHS tape containing “Stay Alive” and “Danger Trees”
and also pertinent brochures.
The vivid description given by a
paramedic on the tape may be a
bit graphic, but it reinforces
BPA’s position that highline
awareness is of vital importance.
Contact persons are Bonneville
Jared Goddard, Safety Officer,
and Ralph Fair, Safety Manager,
at (541) 465-6996 or (541) 465-
6565. Ben Tilley can be reached at