When winter arrives, Hoosiers are never sure of what to expect. Indiana winters include everything from heavy snows, to freezing rain, to ice storms — and sometimes, all of those in a single day. All of those forms of winter weather can create hazards related to electricity, reports Indiana Electric Cooperatives (IEC).
“Being safe around electricity is a year-round need, but Indiana winters include many dangerous hazards, especially where power lines are concerned,” says Rick Coons, CEO at IEC.
“Snow and ice often accumulate on power lines, and the added weight may cause them to snap off the power poles, or to cause the poles to break,” Coons explains. “That can bring power lines into contact with the ground, trees, homes, vehicles, and other objects. If people or pets come in contact with a live power line, they can suffer serious injury or even death.”
Many people assume that if a line is down and they don’t see sparks, the line isn’t carrying current. But that’s not necessarily the case. “The safest approach is to assume that every power line is energized until a professional determines otherwise,” says Coons. “If you see that a power line is down, you should call the local power company or 911 immediately so repair crews can be dispatched.”
Even if you don’t touch a downed power line, you can be in danger. “There may be enough current that the ground or other surfaces touching the line may be energized. If the ground, a fence, or a vehicle is in contact with a live line and you touch any of those objects, you’ll put yourself at risk for electrocution. That’s especially true when the ground is wet or snow-covered.” shared Coons, “The best advice is simply to keep your distance.”
If you discover a low or fallen line, following these recommended safety tips:
- Consider all wires energized and dangerous. Do not attempt to remove a tree limb or other object from a power line. Electricity can travel through limbs, especially when they are wet.
- If a power line falls across your car, the best option is to stay inside. Honk your horn to get the attention of those around you, and wait for rescue professionals to tell you that it is safe to get out of the vehicle. If anyone approaches, warn them to stay away.
- If you MUST get out of the car due to fire or other imminent danger, jump out quickly and avoid touching any part of the vehicle while your feet are also on the ground. Put your feet together and shuffle or hop away slowly, making sure that you keep your feet on the ground while not touching any nearby objects. Move as far from the vehicle as you can.
- Never drive over downed power lines. You may think that your rubber tires will protect you, but if any part of your car’s metal comes in contact with the wire or any adjacent object has become energized, the electricity can flow into your vehicle.
- If someone makes contact with a power line, call 9-1-1. Trying to assist the person will likely cause you to come into contact with the electricity. It’s better to let trained professionals deal with the situation than to make yourself a victim of electrocution.
SOURCES: Austin Energy, Electrical Safety Foundation International, OSHA, Pacific Gas & Electric.