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What are insulated shovels?

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Use an insulated digging tool Sometimes your digging tools may require electrical insulation.

Perhaps you need to dig narrow trenches for laying cables or irrigation work or just simply need to dig.

The problem is when what you need to dig is around underground live cables or electrified rail track areas.

What is electrical insulation?

An electrical conductor permits the flow of electricity through it. Electrical insulation is a material in which internal electric charges do not flow freely, so it is therefore very hard to conduct (let pass) an electric current under the influence of an electric field.

In other words, electrical insulation does not let electricity flow through it easily.

Examples include rubber, plastic and fibreglass A perfect insulator does not exist.

Some materials such as rubber, plastic and fibreglass have a high resistivity (a measurement of a material’s strength to oppose or resist an electrical current) and make good insulators for moderate electrical currents.

Most metals, however, are conductors of electricity.  In other words, electricity would travel easily through a shovel with a steel blade and a steel shaft.

Insulated tools

Check that the area you're digging is free from underground cables or use an insulated shovel There are various steps you can take to avoid potential damage and any danger from digging around underground live power cables and using an insulated digging tool is one of them.

In this section, we will examine an insulated shovel.

For insulated forks, please see our section: Forks

Check there is full adherence to the British Standards institute First of all, ensure that all insulated hand tools conform to the British Standards for working on or near live cables.

An insulated hand digging tool is usually tested to withstand up to 10,000 volts. A guarantee of insulation up to 1,000 volts is then issued, which is full conformity to live cable working specifications.

In addition, a unique traceable number is supplied with all insulated hand tools.

An example of an insulated shovel Insulated shovels are very similar in design and models tends not to differ too much other than in the shape of the blade. There are two main safety factors which you should look out for when choosing a particular shovel:

1. A solid fibreglass core and a layer of insulating material for the shaft.

2. An integrated hand stop or collar.

Safety factor 1 –  A solid fibreglass core and a layer of insulating material for the shaft

Ideal for heavy ground breaking work Fibreglass is strong yet lightweight and has excellent insulating properties.

A layer or two of polymer (both an insulator and abrasive resistant) coats the fibreglass core, offering additional protection.

The polymer sheathing is normally a bright orange colour.

There is an extremely wide range of domestic, commercial and manufacturing uses for polypropylene Polymer is a word used commonly for plastic.

The coating on the fibreglass core will usually be polypropylene – a tough and flexible thermoplastic material used for an extremely wide number of applications including electrical insulation.

When the white is revealed, dispose of the tool or use as an ordinary shovel Check that the shaft has a sort of wear indicator on the sheathing that will signal when the tool should be replaced.

For example, once the outer protective layer erodes, a white inner layer becomes visible. When this happens, either replace the tool or use it as a non-insulated tool.

Safety factor 2 – An insulated collar or hand stop

 It is an ideal tool for digging deep narrow holes, trenches, cable channels, pipe channels, drain channels or post holes. A specially contoured insulated collar (or hand stop) prevents the user’s hand from accidentally slipping onto the steel blade. The collar is generally made from rubber.

Don’t forget – steel conducts electricity. If the blade pierces the insulation of one of the cables, you won’t want your hand anywhere near the steel head of the tool!

The curved tip is designed to reduce the risk of damaging all types of utilities while digging. Any difference between the various designs of insulated shovels is negligible other than the shape of the blade or length of shaft. The functions of each model can sometimes overlap.

An insulated shovel is generally used by contractors and for heavy, ground breaking work such as digging narrow trenches for cables, drainage and pipes.