Electrical Safety on Farms
Farmers and farm family members face dangers every day. Although tragedies such as tractor rollovers and grain bin suffocation receive the most attention, electrocution and electrical burn accidents are frequent on farms.
A simple movement of a portable grain auger from one bin to another can have tragic results if the individuals involved are not extremely careful. The use of tractors with large cabs and antennas and oversized grain wagons can also result in preventable electrocution incidents.
Electrical equipment around fields, such as power lines in the end rows may get overlooked during such a hectic time of year as planting or harvest. However, failure to notice overhead power lines can be a deadly oversight.
Most farmsteads could use a very careful overhead visual inspection of electrical lines. The service may no longer meet the proper codes because of the age and/or damage to poles and pole guy wires. The sag may have increased over the years, while the height of the machinery being used today may be much higher. Utility regulators require power lines to be 18.5 feet or more above the ground and 16 feet for non-insulated Communication conductors to provide adequate clearance.
However, today’s farm equipment has a long reach when extended; and even when collapsed for roadway transport, many pieces of equipment may exceed that 18.5-foot height. A daily check should be made of where equipment will be moving to ensure that it will clear power lines. But don’t take matters into your own hands. They may not be as high as they look. Never undertake the height measurement of the lines without the on-site help of the utility company officials. A good rule is to maintain a 10-foot separation from a power line completely around it, whether you are driving underneath or passing a grain auger near it.
Where possible, install electrical safety warning signage to prevent equipment and personnel contact with power lines. This will also be beneficial to your suppliers who may be making deliveries to your farm. Always keep in mind that electricity doesn’t allow mistakes and neither should you.
Electrical safety is a major hazard on farms. Regular electrical inspections are necessary to prevent accidents due to malfunctioning or old electrical equipment. Harvest season is the best time to inspect all machinery and electrical equipment, including clearing outlets, lighting, electrical panels, and equipment from obstructions or debris. Check to make sure wires have not been affected by mice or other animals and carefully examine all connections. Partially destructed wires can cause electrical shorts and potentially fatal electrical hazards. Additionally, workers should be aware of the height of electrical lines and farm equipment, as many dump bed trucks, wagons, loaders, and more can contact electrical lines, causing fatal accidents. For more information about electrical safety on farms, please visit the University of Illinois Extension's farm electrical safety page.
Other Farm Safety Tips:
Children of any age should never be taken for a ride on tractors or other farm machinery. Extra riders are at high risk of falling off or being run over. Remember the rule: One seat; one rider!
Make sure your farming equipment is in good working condition. Ensure all protective guards and shields are securely in place. Never clean, oil, or adjust any equipment while the machine is running.
Staying alert during farm work is very important. Fatigue, drowsiness, and illness can lead to mishaps in the field. Drink lots of water, and remember to eat properly throughout the day. Take breaks for your mind and your body. Recognize when you have had enough, and turn the operation over to someone else.
It is a good idea to have someone trained in first aid on each farm work team. Keep well-stocked first aid kits and updated fire extinguishers on hand at each work site. Be sure workers know how to use a fire extinguisher. And keep important phone numbers on hand in case of emergency.
Does your farm have a safety plan? Designate one person for this task. Hazard assessments, emergency procedures, and communication methods should all be considered. On any farm, it's important to plan for safety.
Spraying season can be dangerous for workers. Be sure to wear protective clothing when handling or applying any chemicals. Use respirators, gloves, and chemical-resistant overalls to ensure there is no contamination.