Underground Cable Safety Guidelines

March 22, 2018

Picture the risk factors that crop up when underground cables are installed. The large diameter power lines are heavily armoured, we'll concede that point, but that doesn't mean this work field is entirely safe. What's needed here is a second layer of protection, a series of stringently enforced safety guidelines. They begin with the basics, with "Call Before Digging" signs, but now we're moving forward, moving into excavation penetration territory.

Identifying The Ground-Based Risks

Manually wielded shovels and garden tools begin this cautionary tale. A blow from a hand tool will cut an underground cable if it lacks a code-mandated layer of material armouring. Then there are mechanical excavators, pneumatic tools, and concrete saws to guard against. The first safety guideline of note, therefore, is cabling depth. A minimum depth of at least 500-mm is mandated when a dangerous current flows through the underground cabling. That depth deepens when higher voltages and currents flow. Additionally, the conductors must be locked behind a physical barrier. A steel wire armoured jacket is commonly utilized as a conductor shield in this dangerous application. On top of that metallic skin, a thick sheath of toughened rubber waterproofs the cables while adding a measured degree of flexibility to the power line. Alternatively, galvanized steel conduits provide mechanical strength as individual conductors thread their way through the tubular channels.

Safety Guidelines: Underground Cables

A cable marketing representative could spend hours describing the different buried cable types and conduits. At the end of the day, though, they must satisfy the AS/NZS 2053 codes and practices. Steel jacketed and double-insulated, or maybe they're held inside a waterproof network of steel conduit, the cabling now defies mechanical impact. Meanwhile, terminating switches and breakers guard either end of the cable run. If the ground elements or some artificially introduced force should penetrate the wires, then the breaker will immediately isolate the underground power line. Otherwise, the cables could arc explosively and cause a severe electrical shock. Even that excavator, scooping down deep, could become electrically live. Manually wielded tools, they discharge current, too, which cause burns and potentially fatal injuries.

Protected by electrical switches and circuit breakers, by armoured skins and minimum depths, underground cables get their best safety boost when these safety guidelines are observed. Even a humble garden shed, a site that's perhaps receiving a new electrically-equipped workbench, needs this nationally sanctioned set of rules. Safeguarded by these regulations, the cables are laid by qualified electrical contractors, covered by steel and double-insulated rubber, plus an electable layer of concrete slabs, and safely monitored by those mains switches and breakers.

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