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Tree trimming near power lines can be deadly: leave it to the approved professionals

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Trimming trees or vegetation near power lines can kill. That's why it must be done by professionals.

“It’s a simple message but one that seems hard for people to really understand,” explained David Hammond, Powerco’s Network Service Delivery Manager.

“Our Powerco network people are trained to work around electricity.  We have a rigorous process everyone must follow to work near live lines because we understand how dangerous it is – even for us professionals.  Knowing this makes it hard to comprehend why some property owners think they can trim trees near power lines themselves without any professional training or protective equipment.”

As the owner of the lines network, Powerco has certain obligations but so too do the property owners, Mr Hammond said.

“We pay for the first cut when trees or vegetation get too close but after that, it’s the property owner who is obligated to ensure the trees are trimmed safely.”

Mr Hammond acknowledged that some people may be put off by the cost to managing vegetation around lines.  That cost could be avoided by planting low-growing vegetation near power lines but he said the cost of getting a tree professionally trimmed is small compared to a human life.

“I know that sounds dramatic – but that’s what we’re talking about.

“People have been killed or horribly injured doing this. We’ve all heard about people who’ve trimmed their own trees and nothing has happened. But that’s just luck, plain and simple. What happens next time if you or your mate isn’t so lucky? 

“Some people believe as long as you don’t touch a wire, you’ll be okay.  But that’s not true. Electricity can jump across objects like tree branches or equipment if they are close enough. Trees conduct electricity. So do people. Most of the lines around here are at least 11,000 volts – that’s more than enough to kill a person.”  

Mr Hammond said 4m is considered the safety zone. Therefore, if vegetation or trees come within 4m of power lines, Powerco approved tree or vegetation trimming services must be used.

While safety is the primary concern, Mr Hammond explained that managing trees properly is also a community issue.

“Trees are a major cause of power outages.  Last year, one out of every four power cuts on Powerco’s network was caused by trees.  That meant some 70,000 customers were without power for a time because of trees.  It’s unnecessary.”

Tree trimming is often done in the spring but managing vegetation growth can be a year-round activity depending on the type of vegetation planted.

Background

The Electricity (Hazards from Trees) Regulations 2003, provide a system to help ensure trees are kept well clear from power lines.

These regulations require the local lines companies and tree owners to take appropriate action when trees are too close to power lines or are an immediate danger to people or property.

In addition, the Department of Labour has issued an Occupational Safety and Health Approved Code of Practice for tree work. The code specifies that only approved contractors can trim trees near power lines. The code states that it is an offence under the law to trim trees without compliance with the guidelines. Guidelines states that work within a 4m radius of the lines must be done by a licensed contractor.

Under the regulations, Powerco is obliged to pay reasonable costs for cutting or trimming each tree near power lines once in its life – this is often referred to as the first cut.  After that, the tree owner is responsible for the costs of keeping that tree clear of power lines.

Approved tree trimming contactors for the Thames/Valley/Coromandel and Tauranga areas are:
• Asplundh - Phone 0800 4 ASPLUNDH (0800 4277 586)
• Arbor Care Ltd - Phone 0800 ARBOR CARE (07 5431 775)
• Treescape - Phone 0800 TREEWORK (09 873396)

Powerco is New Zealand’s second largest electricity and gas distribution utility with around 400,000 consumers connected to its networks.  Powerco’s electricity networks are in Tauranga, Thames, Coromandel, Eastern and Southern Waikato, Taranaki, Wanganui, Rangitikei, Manawatu and the Wairarapa. Its gas pipeline networks are in Taranaki, Hutt Valley, Porirua, Wellington, Horowhenua, Manawatu and Hawke’s Bay.

Powerco’s emergency phone number is 0800 272 727.

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