Electricity: It’s All About Safety

Every morning as they are about to begin work, the line crews at Ripley Power and Light pause to go over a safety checklist, a reminder that working around electricity can be dangerous.

They know how deadly electricity can be and the importance of safe workplace practices.

With a borrowed safety demonstration model on a flatbed trailer, Ripley Power and Light recently took that message to two groups of first responders and then to eighth graders participating in the Pathways2Possibilities Career Expo.

Under the direction of Meter Department Supervisor David Newman, lineworkers went through various scenarios to show their audience the deadly power of electricity. Because the lines were energized, the lineworkers wore the necessary protective equipment and communicated with one another as if they were at a live scene.

Jaws dropped when spectators saw a blue arc of electricity caused by an aluminum ladder touching a live utility line. It happened again when a dummy was used to touch the handle of a car sitting on live electric wires after hitting an electric pole.

The “driver” inside was calling for help, and the responder didn’t think twice before trying to get the driver out of the car.

The lineworkers also demonstrated what happens when tree limbs touch a wire or when a shovel hits an underground electric wire.

Participating with David in the demonstration were lineworkers Scott Ozment, Chris Sanders, Chris Conrad and Ronnie Hunter.

The discussions with first responders were especially important, David said.

“First responders often arrive at an emergency scene before our crew. There have been times when people make impulsive decisions that could put them and others at risk.

“Electricity is invisible and produces no sounds or smell,” David said. “We cannot rely on our senses or common sense to determine if the line is energized. The only safe assumption is to assume that all wires are energized with primary current. The line is not considered safe until grounds have been applied.”

The safety demonstration equipment was built with funds from the Tennessee Municipal Electric Power Association, Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association and Tennessee Job Training and Safety Department.

The trailer is equipped with a fully functioning model of a distribution power system, including lines, poles, conductors and transformers, which convert the voltage to the 7,620 volts that Ripley Power and Light uses on its primary lines throughout its system.

Tennessee electric utilities can borrow the demonstration trailer for safety events.

“People often assume that electric power isn’t dangerous because it looks so tame,” David said. “But it can cause bad injuries and even death. Electricity burns you from the inside out, so people often don’t know the full extent of their injuries until later.”

As for Power and Light’s lineworkers, however, “we know the power we’re dealing with.”


  • Keep ladders, kites, antennas and other equipment away from power lines.
  • Stay clear of any power lines that have fallen to the ground.
  • Stay in your car if it comes in contact with downed power lines. If it’s unsafe to stay in the vehicle, jump clear of the lines with both feet touching the ground at the same time.
  • Don’t use electric appliances or tools if you are standing in water.
  • Always call 811 to get the location of underground lines before you dig.