Spring planting and harvest safety
Plant Seeds of Caution Around Power Lines
As farmers make plans to return to their fields for spring planting, Safe Electricity urges farm workers to be particularly alert to the dangers of working near overhead power lines. Operating large equipment near these lines is one of the often overlooked, yet potentially deadly, hazards of working on a farm.
Start by making sure everyone knows to maintain a minimum 10-foot clearance from power lines. “The minimum 10 foot distance is a 360-degree rule—below, to the side, and above lines,” says Molly Hall, executive director of the Energy Education Council’s Safe Electricity program. “It can be difficult to estimate distance, and sometimes a power line is closer than it looks. A spotter or someone with a broader view can help.”
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 or cultivators or raising truck beds near power lines, and never attempt to raise or move a power line to clear a path.
Simply coming too close to a power line while working is dangerous as electricity can arc or “jump” to conducting material or objects, such as a ladder, pole, or truck. Remember, non-metallic materials such as lumber, tree limbs, tires, ropes, and hay will conduct electricity depending on dampness, dust, and dirt contamination.
When guy wires (a grounded wire used to stabilize utility poles) are broken, these normally neutral wires can be anything but harmless. If you hit a guy wire and break it, call the utility to fix it. Do not do it yourself. When dealing with electrical poles and wires, always call the electric utility.
“If your equipment does come into contact with power lines, stay in the cab and call for help,” explains Hall. “If the power line is energized and you step outside, your body becomes the path to the ground. Even if a line has landed on the ground, there is still potential for the area to be energized. Warn others who may be nearby to stay away and wait until the electric utility arrives.”
“If leaving the cab is necessary, as in the case of fire, the proper action is to jump—not step—with both feet together, hitting the ground at the same time,” Hall advises. “Do not allow any part of your body to touch the equipment and the ground at the same time. Hop to safety, keeping both feet together as you leave the area.” Once you get away from the equipment, never attempt to get back on or even touch the equipment before the power has been shut off.
Managers should make sure full-time and seasonal workers are educated on these safety precautions, and danger areas need to be thoroughly identified and labeled. Designate preplanned routes that avoid hazard areas.
Farmers may want to consider moving or burying power lines around buildings or busy pathways. If planning a new out building or farm structure, contact your power supplier for information on minimum safe clearances from overhead and underground power lines. Call the local utility company to measure line height—no one should attempt this on their own without professional assistance.
For more electrical safety information, visit SafeElectricity.org.
Preparation and Awareness Are Keys to a Safe Harvest
Harvest season is one of the busiest times of year for farmers—and among the most dangerous. Before taking to the fields, Safe Electricity and MiEnergy Cooperative urge farm workers to be aware of overhead power lines and to keep equipment and extensions far away from them. Safe Electricity and MiEnergy encourage farm managers to share this information with their families, and workers to keep them safe from farm related 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 10 feet away from power lines in all directions, at all times.
- 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 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 makes contact with 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 that 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 prevents you from getting a shock.
Electrical work around the farm can also pose hazards. Often the need for an electrical repair comes at a time 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. Make sure you have the level of expertise required to do the electrical work, and never hesitate contact a qualified electrician when appropriate. Doing electrical work is also a good time to check your wires because mice and other animals tend to chew at them, leaving the electrical hazard of bare wires that can cause electrical shorts and potentially fatal shocks.