Follow the code

Monday, November 07, 2022

The construction industry is being urged to follow the code for electrical safe distances following serious power line and cable related injuries of workers this year.

New Zealand’s second largest electricity utility, Powerco, is concerned the construction industry – from property developers, designers and surveyors, through to builders, scaffolders and roofers – are putting their lives and those of others at risk from working and building too close to power lines, poles and other electricity equipment.

In April, a 28-year-old Auckland scaffolder suffered a massive electric shock and needed both his arms amputated after the metal pole he was holding struck power lines while he was dismantling a scaffolding structure.

In a separate incident, in Dunedin in May, a 34-year-old received serious injuries after a live electric cable was severed during construction work.

“These are horrific, life-changing, incidents that we’re trying to help avoid – not only for those working in the construction industry, but the people who will eventually be living or working in buildings,” Powerco General Manager Electricity, Karen Frew, says.

“From design through to construction – whether it’s a permanent or a temporary structure – you must follow the minimum safe distances set out in the New Zealand Code of Practice for electricity safe distances to help avoid electrocution or serious injury and any costs of correcting the work.”

The minimum distance between a structure – whether that’s a building, scaffolding, a fence, a driveway or marquee – and an overhead line varies depending on the voltage the line is carrying. The structure needs to be clear of lines both underneath and to the side.

“With the amount of development occurring, we’re seeing and hearing of a concerning number of incidences where structures are being put up too close to overhead power lines or land is being recontoured dangerously close to existing power poles and lines,” Karen Frew says.

“We’ve heard of incidences where buildings have been built too close to power lines – where people could practically touch the lines when they opened the second story windows. It’s sheer luck that the tradespeople building those sites weren’t seriously injured or electrocuted when they were being constructed.

“Then there are the land developments where land around power poles and lines are being recontoured, resulting in structures being built far closer to the overhead lines than they safely should be. Digging can also undermine underground power cables.”

While the safety of the public is of upmost importance, not following the code of practice for safe electrical distances can come at a cost for the construction industry and their clients. If the code is not followed and is found to be unsafe, costs can be incurred to those building owners to put the structure right – or to have the power lines and poles moved to a safe distance.

Before designing, planning or carrying out any work under or near power lines, poles, stay wires or other electricity network equipment, contact 0800 Powerco (0800 769 372) if the work is in Powerco’s electricity network area and the team can help with the plans. If the work is outside Powerco’s area, it’s best to contact the local electricity lines company for advice. A map of New Zealand lines companies can be found here.

What NZECP34 – Electrical Safe Distances covers

The code covers all types of building and excavation – permanent or temporary – near power poles and lines, including but not exclusive to:

Portable buildings and marquees
Using scaffolding
Building fences
Digging/laying a driveway
Raising ground levels
Erecting signs
Artificial shelter belts and canopies

Click here to learn more about the code or at


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