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Ground Transformer Safety

Ground-mounted utility boxes are not jungle gyms

In almost every suburban neighborhood one can find one of those green boxes that are usually situated near the street between every other house. While they may seem like a well-positioned gathering place for kids, just the right height for sitting, they are no bench for the school bus stop. Nor are they a desk for last minute homework, a base for a game of kickball in the street, or a launching pad for acrobats tumbling in the grass.

These pad-mount transformers are part of the electrical system for the buried power lines bringing electricity to each home.

“The pad-mount transformers are the same as the transformers you see on utility poles. The only difference is they’re mounted on the ground because the wires are underground,” said John Gasstrom, CEO at Indiana Electric Cooperatives. “They’re designed to be safer, with a locked metal case around the transformer and conduit around the wires, but they’re still electrical transformers. Just inside each box is 7,200 volts of electricity.”

While ground transformers may have that outer casing around them, they lack the innate security of distance that pole-top transformers and overhead power lines have. Their safety can be compromised by carelessness or by accident. “When they’re hit by vehicles or dug under, then they’ve been altered, which could present a potentially unsafe situation,” said Gasstrom.

Some general safety tips IEC wants consumers to remember:

  • Do not let children play on or near pad-mounted transformers.

  • Never stick anything through cracks into the transformer box.

  • If you see a transformer that is unlocked or in need of repair, contact the electric utility immediately. Contact information should be on the transformer box itself.

  • Always call 811 if you plan to dig around a transformer or anywhere in your yard to have all buried utilities marked.

  • Keep shrubs and structures at least 10-12 feet from the “door” of the pad-mounted transformer and at least three-five feet from the sides to allow utility workers required access.

Consumers should always use caution and keep a safe distance from ground transformers — which is why they are plainly marked with warnings. “Kids may not understand why they shouldn’t be on or near them. We hope parents will show them the warning stickers and tell them about the dangers of electricity,” Gasstrom said. “The electrical equipment inside is designed to be safe, and people don’t have to be scared of it,” he added. “But it’s better to avoid the boxes altogether.”

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