Farm Electrical Safety Critical When Operating Large Machinery
Fall is a busy time for agricultural producers in the Midwest. Days are getting shorter with less daylight, and each day gets producers closer to winter and the weather associated with it. With these factors at the forefront, there is a perception that things must be done in hurry. Sometimes when people get in a hurry, they don’t pay as much attention to doing things safely. When you compound that with the nature of agricultural work, you can create a potential for disaster. According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), agriculture ranks among the most hazardous industries.
Every year farmers are injured or killed in electricity-related accidents. According to the National Ag Safety Database, every year 62 farm workers in the United States are electrocuted. To raise an additional cause for concern, 3.6% of deaths among youth under 20 years-of-age are caused by electrocution.
Larger equipment raises the risk for increased electrical line awareness. Accidents with electrical lines can happen during any time of the day, but working in the dark or in low light timeframes can increase the potential of contact with electrical lines. Equipment and tools that have the greatest risk for coming in contact include ladders, irrigation pipes and portable grain augers. Movement of these items should not be done in the dark, and, if possible, should not be done alone, as the potential for losing control is higher.
Here are some key tips to stay safe when operating large machinery on the farm:
- Start each morning by planning your day’s work. Know what jobs will happen near power lines and have a plan to keep the assigned workers safe.
- Keep yourself and equipment at least 10 feet away from power lines in all directions, at all times. Use a spotter when moving tall equipment and loads.
- Use care when raising augers or the bed of a grain truck. It can be difficult to estimate distance, and sometimes, a power line is closer than it looks. Use a spotter to make certain you stay far away from power lines.
- Always lower equipment extensions, portable augers, or elevators to their lowest possible level, under 14 feet, before moving or transporting them. Wind, uneven ground, shifting weight, or other conditions can cause you to lose control of equipment and make contact with power lines.
- Be aware of increased height when loading and transporting larger modern tractors with higher antennas.
- Never attempt to raise or move a power line to clear a path. If power lines near your property have sagged over time, call your utility to repair them.
- Don’t use metal poles when breaking up bridged grain inside and around bins.
- As in any outdoor work, be careful not to raise any equipment, such as ladders, poles, or rods, into power lines. Remember, non-metallic materials, such as lumber, tree limbs, tires, ropes, and hay, will conduct electricity, depending on dampness and dust and dirt contamination.
- Use qualified electricians for work on drying equipment and other farm electrical systems.
- If you are on equipment that contacts a power line, do not exit the equipment. When you step off the equipment, you become the electricity’s path to ground and receive a potentially fatal shock. Wait until utility workers have de-energized the line and confirmed it is safe for you to exit the vehicle. If the vehicle is on fire and you must exit, jump clear of the vehicle with both feet together. Hop as far from the vehicle as you can with your feet together. Keep your feet together to prevent current flow through your body, which could be deadly.
Sources: SafetyElectricity.org; SDSU Extension