Farming is among the more dangerous occupations for several reasons, including potential for encounters with electrical hazards. Before taking to the fields, the Safe Electricity program urges farm workers to be aware of overhead power lines and to keep equipment and extensions far away from them.
Safe Electricity encourages farm managers to share this information with their families and workers to keep them safe from electrical accidents.
- 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.
Electrical work around the farm can also pose hazards. Often, the need for an electrical repair comes when a farmer has been working long hours and is fatigued. At such times, it’s best to step back and wait until you’ve rested.
Farming is perennially near the top of the list of the most dangerous jobs in the United States according to Bureau of Labor Statistics.
One hazard faced by farm workers, while they are also feeling the pressure to get the crops in the ground, is electricity and the equipment that carries it to homes and businesses. However, with proper planning and education, risks of and accidents involving electricity can be greatly reduced. One critical part of safety around electricity is awareness. With the use of large equipment, farmers can easily find themselves in dangerous proximity to overhead lines. Being aware of the location of those wires can help reduce accidents.
Safe Electricity urges farmers and farm workers to remember:
- Keep a 10-foot minimum distance around power lines. That means 10 feet above, below, and to the side of power lines.
- Use a spotter when moving machinery around the farm. It can be difficult to judge how close a piece of machinery is from the driver’s seat. Use caution when handling long items such as irrigation pipe, ladders, and rods. Coming too close to a power line can cause electricity to arc, or “jump,” to conducting material or objects.
- Be aware of increased height when loading and transporting tractors on trailer beds. Many tractors are now equipped with radios and communications systems that have very tall antennas extending from the cab that could make contact with power lines.
- Avoid raising the arms of planters, cultivators, or truck beds near power lines. Never attempt to raise or move a power line to clear a path. Remember, even non-metallic materials such as lumber, tree limbs, tires, ropes, and hay will conduct electricity depending on dampness, dust, and dirt contamination. If you hit a guy wire and break it, call the utility to fix it. Do not do it yourself. Pole guy wires, used to stabilize utility poles, are grounded. However, when one of the guy wires is broken it can cause an electric current disruption. This can make those neutral wires anything but harmless.
Jim Flach’s sprayer made contact with overhead power lines and it cost him his life. Take a few minutes to go to SafeElectricity.org, watch Jim’s story, and share it with everyone involved in your farming operation to help keep them safe. Get more electrical safety information at SafeElectricity.org.
Properly controlled burns can have many benefits for agricultural land. However, if these burns are not managed safely, they can result in property damage, power outages, injury, and even death.
Safe Electricity urges you to make safety a priority and shares important information on the special considerations that need to be taken around power lines.
Make yourself aware of laws and regulations.
Burns should only be conducted by those who are experienced with fire and burn paths. Avoid burning near public roads or airports, as this can create a potentially dangerous visibility hazard. Alert all those who may be potentially affected by the burn—including neighbors, the local fire department, and law enforcement. Depending on local regulations, you may also need to obtain a burn permit. Take special note of power poles and lines. Burning a power pole could result in a widespread power outage and be costly for the individual responsible for the fire. Cut down grass and weeds and water the area near the poles as to not encourage fires to encroach.
Be careful to keep water streams out of power lines.
If a power pole catches on fire, call the fire department and alert your utility to handle the possible electrical dangers. Even if you think you have been able to put out the fire yourself, alert the utility to the fact that it caught fire. The creosote, a preservative, on the inside could still be burning the pole from the inside out. In addition, if the pole catches on fire, it could create shock or electrocution hazards to those who may be nearby or spark fires in unintended directions from downed lines. Carbon particles in smoke can conduct electricity, and it is also possible for smoke produced during the burnings to conduct electricity and cause an electrical discharge from the line. To reduce this risk, the fire should not cross under powerlines. Also keep environmental factors, such as temperature, humidity, and wind direction and speed in mind. The wind speed in the area should be low and in a steady direction as to not let the fire get out of control.
As environmental factors are subject to change, check forecasts as well as actual conditions before you begin the burn.
Ensure that you have the proper clothing, equipment, and tools. For personal safety, all those near the flames should wear clothing made of natural fibers or approved for firefighting.
For more information on safety around electrical equipment, visit SafeElectricity.org.
When the crops are ready to be harvested, farmers have only a window of time—between weather events, equipment breakdowns, and life events—to get the best quality crop out of the field. To make the most of this time, farm workers trying to get as much work done as possible. Safe Electricity offers safety tips for farm and ranch workers across the nation to help keep them safe during this time.
“The rush to harvest can lead to farmers working long days with little sleep,” cautions Erin Hollinshead, executive director of the Safe Electricity program. “Make sure before starting, to note the location of power lines.”
One of the biggest hazards for farmers is posed by power lines. To stay safe around overhead power lines, Safe Electricity urges farm operators and workers to:
- Use a spotter when operating large machinery near lines.
- Use care when raising augers or the bed of grain trucks around power lines.
- Keep equipment at least 10 feet from lines—at all times, in all directions.
- Inspect the height of the farm equipment to determine clearance.
- Always remember to lower extensions when moving loads.
- Never attempt to move a power line out of the way or raise it for clearance.
- If a power line is sagging or low, call the local utility immediately.
“Always remember to periodically look up and be aware of your surroundings,” Hollinshead adds. “If you can’t safely pass under a power line, choose a different path.”
If contact is made with a power line, remember, it is almost always safest to stay on the equipment. Make sure to warn others to stay away, and call the local utility provider immediately. The only reason to exit is if the equipment is on fire. If this is the case, jump off the equipment with your feet together and without touching the ground and vehicle at the same time. Then, still keeping your feet together, “bunny hop” away.
Additional safety tips from Safe Electricity include:
- Do not use metal poles when breaking up bridged grain inside and around bins.
- Always hire qualified electricians for any electrical issues.
- Do not use equipment with frayed cables.
- Make sure outdoor outlets are equipped with a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI).
- When operating a portable generator, make sure nothing is plugged into it when turning it on, and never operate a generator in a confined area. Generators can produce toxic and deadly gasses like carbon monoxide.
- Always use caution when operating heavy machinery.
For more farm and electrical safety information, visit SafeElectricity.org.