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High voltage power lines
Electrical transmission and distribution lines for electric power always use voltages significantly higher than 50 volts, so contact with or close approach to the line conductors presents a danger of electrocution. Contact with overhead wires is a frequent cause of injury or death. Metal ladders, farm equipment, boat masts, construction machinery, aerial antennas, and similar objects are frequently involved in fatal contact with overhead wires. Digging into a buried cable can also be dangerous to workers at an excavation site. Digging equipment (either hand tools or machine driven) that contacts a buried cable may energize piping or the ground in the area, resulting in electrocution of nearby workers. A fault in a high-voltage transmission line or substation may result in high currents flowing along the surface of the earth, producing an earth potential rise that also presents a danger of electric shock.
Unauthorized persons climbing on power pylons or electrical apparatus are also frequently the victims of electrocution. At very high transmission voltages even a close approach can be hazardous, since the high voltage may spark across a significant air gap.
For high-voltage and extra-high-voltage transmission lines, specially trained personnel use so-called "live line" techniques to allow hands-on contact with energized equipment. In this case the worker is electrically connected to the high-voltage line but thoroughly insulated from the earth so that he is at the same electrical potential as that of the line. Since training for such operations is lengthy, and still presents a danger to personnel, only very important transmission lines are subject to maintenance while live. Outside these properly engineered situations, insulation from earth does not guarantee that no current flows to earth—as grounding or arcing to ground can occur in unexpected ways, and high-frequency currents can burn even an ungrounded person. Touching a transmitting antenna is dangerous for this reason, and a high-frequency Tesla Coil can sustain a spark with only one endpoint).
Protective equipment on high-voltage transmission lines normally prevents formation of an unwanted arc, or ensures that it is quenched within tens of milliseconds. Electrical apparatus that interrupts high-voltage circuits is designed to safely direct the resulting arc so that it dissipates without damage. High voltage circuit breakers often use a blast of high pressure air, a special dielectric gas (such as SF6 under pressure), or immersion in mineral oil to quench the arc when the high voltage circuit is broken.