How to avoid dying on the job?

So I kinda like breathing and having a pulse these days (even though I still love zombies), and since I’m unlikely to be reanimated after my candle gets snuffed, I figured that I should look into ways for me learn how to avoid “riding the lightning” and doing the jitter bug.

In other words, now that I’m doing a lot of water fed pole work, my chances for striking a power line are significantly increased from when I was just doing occasional pole work.

So while I realize that not touching or getting to close to a powerline is the preferred method for avoiding “Ol Sparky”. I’ve been wondering what the best way to know if it’s a powerline or a phoneline? I treat them all as powerlines, but it would be nice to know for sure.

Should I be looking for transformers or other hardware for an indication?

Treat them all as power lines and you will never have a problem.

I have seen trained and experianced people snuffed or zapped because they thought that they had a cable, phone or powered down electric line. Don’t ever take the chance, it could really **** off your widow.

I appreciate the advice guys. But I did mention that I already treat everything as if it were a powerline.

However, for my own curiosity and safety, being able to recognize the difference is a good thing— not simply an excuse to be unsafe.

Even if I know it’s a phone line, I plan to continue treating it as if it’s still a powerline.

I would ask an electrician to show me.

I was thinking of that too, and/or contacting the local power company. But I also want to help generate discussion on this topic as well.

I am in no way an expert on this, but i think all the overhead power lines that I’ve seen go into a metered box, usually on the side of the house, about waist level. Phone and cable lines either go straight into the house or have their own plastic box that is usually labeled Verizon, Comcast, etc…

Yeah that makes sense. I’ll be looking a lot closer at all the lines from now on.

I am in no way an expert on utilities however I am a firefighter and we deal with these things from time to time. Usually(at least in our area) your cable and telephone wires are the bottom wires. Usually the electrical service wires are along the top and they go through insulators. As you already said, just try and steer clear of all wires if possible. You never know. Hope this helps. Stay safe and good luck with the WFP.

I have quite a bit of experience working in field system operations for the electric company in Seattle.

First off, as said before, treat everything as if it’s energized. To identify the electric service wires that run pole to house, you will see a set consisting of three wires twisted together. This is a triplex service. Two of those wires, the hot legs, will have insulation and the third will be bare, that’s the neutral. If it is an old service, they won’t be twisted together but will still have three wires about six inches apart from each other. This is called an open-wire service. You can identify this one because it goes from the pole to a bracket of some sort on the house and then into the weatherhead and down a conduit to the meter. At the pole end of the service, the wires will attach to other service wires for surrounding houses. There may or may not be a transformer on that pole. If you look up and down the street, you will find a transformer that feeds the service in question. It should be within three or fours poles away. The voltages of these wires are in the 240/120V range.

All electric wires have an inherent level of danger. However, the danger associated with “primary” side is significantly higher. These are over 4000 volts. These wires are at the very top of the poles usually at least 35 feet above ground. The top of the transformers will tap off of these lines from above. In my area, they are mostly 26000 volts but transmission wires will run at 240,000. In some areas they use a 500,000 volt transmission system. It varies depending on the utility, but the bottom line is that if you contact it, it will most likely kill you. There was a window cleaner killed in this state when his wfp contacted primary line about 2 months ago or so.

Another thing to keep an eye out for is an underground feed. This will tap off the primary and then go into a conduit. It will be on insulators of some sort. There is some other equipment to watch out for such as capacitors and switches. Ive linked some photos.

Apogee Interactive (between the oil switches is a set of capacitors)

Pole Mounted Underground Electrical Switch Stock Photo 923224 : Shutterstock (an overhead to underground fused cutout)

High Voltage Switch Assembly… | Flickr - Photo Sharing! (one type of primary switch)

The equipment that you could run into in the field is varied. This list isn’t complete but look around next time you are out in the field and maybe it will start to come together. This is something all WCers should take seriously.

If anyone has any specific questions I’d be happy to answer them. You can PM me or post them here.


Great reply !


This is awesome. This is the kind of info I have been looking for. Anytime I’m dealing with something that can easily kill me, I want to know as much as I can about it for obvious reasons.

It’s not so I can identify phone lines and then be complacent around them because they can’t hurt me, but so I can be knowledgeable about both the dangers in my environment and how my tools/equipment can interact with it.

Its similar to working or being around firearms all day. You need to treat every gun as if it was loaded, however, if you don’t possess the knowledge or ability to physically check to make sure the weapon is unloaded and safed, then you should not be working with or around guns.

In my oppininon, powerlines are the same. I’ll treat them all as powerlines, but I want/need to know what I am working around.

Ok, now I’m going to go back and read the links again.

Great info man! Thanks

Being well informed is the best defense against these disasters. I hope everyone takes the time to survey the area they are working in for hazards. It’s very obvious to look around for slopes and other ground level hazards but don’t forget to look above! Maybe I should write a blog about power line safety and include some better photos. Some photos from around houses and point out the hazard zones. I’ve been thinking about writing one since that WCer got killed in Bremerton with his wfp.

That would be great if you wrote this up in a blog or something.

I really think that as the use of WFPs becomes more common, we will see more and more instances of powerline accidents.

We all know about the dangers we face when working on a ladder or roof, but i think that the powerline is going to become a “silent killer” of window cleaners.

Like you already mentioned, we already look around for ground hazards, but rarely do we look up for signs of danger. Not only is the threat of contacting a powerline right above us, but I have also realized that if I have a 30’ pole extended up, then I need to be aware of any wire within approx 30’ radius from me in the event that the pole is knocked over (I set it down and the wind blows it over, or I trip while moving to the next window).

I would like to see more discussion and info on this issue.

I have an easy solution to your problem. Make the new guy do it…

I don’t have a new guy. I’m a one man band.

Well at least if you go ahead and get a “new guy” hired on, if he touches a line you’ll already know the benefits of having an employee :smiley:

Hi Pete, are glass fibre pole measuring devices used in industry to protect workers ?

You have the most ironic name possible for a reply to this thread.

I’m glad I’m not the only who noticed that.