Power lines take beating from construction in province

Utility officials said the increase in construction in Newfoundland and Labrador is causing a worrisome increase in the number of incidents of construction machinery hitting power lines.

Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro and Newfoundland Power recorded 43 incidents involving power lines and construction crews in 2011. So far in 2012, the companies have logged 15 incidents.

Greg Rumbolt, a heavy equipment operator in St. John's, expects to be working flat out for the remainder of the summer on residential subdivisions. He has to navigate around obstacles on the ground, such as basketball nets and piles of loose debris, all the while being mindful of obstacles overhead.

"If I hook a wire, I'm not going to know I hooked it, you know what I mean? So you got to be looking all the time," explained Rumbolt.

Rumbolt said training in power line hazards is part of the certification for heavy equipment operation, but there is another variable.

"A lot of people don't pay attention and that's how accidents happen," noted Rumbolt.

Homeowners could also face hazards

Darren Moore, a manager with Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro, said it's not just contractors and builders who collide with power lines. Moore notes that homeowners trimming trees or building around power poles in their own backyards could run into trouble.

"If you suffer electrocution from a high voltage, you're at the risk of your heart stopping, serious burns, it could be a catastrophic event," warned Moore.

The construction season in Newfoundland and Labrador is expected to peak in August, and Moore said that's why both power companies are issuing a warning now.

Moore recommended that anyone with questions about working near power lines contact either Newfoundland and Labrador Hydro or Newfoundland Power for advice.