Safe Electricity urges farm workers to be particularly alert to the dangers of working with tall equipment near overhead power lines. These lines are most often on the edge of fields and roadways, where equipment may pass getting to the field.
Sprayer arms, planter arms, tractors with antennas - any tall equipment could potentially come in contact overhead power lines if operators are not watchful. Equipment contacting power lines is cited as the most common accident resulting in farm electrocutions.
Be aware of increased height when loading and transporting tractors on trailer beds. Many tractors are 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 near power lines, and never attempt to raise or move a power line to clear a path.
"Follow safe work practices at all times-even if it takes a little extra time-to prevent such tragic accidents," says Molly Hall, executive director of the Safe Electricity program. "Start by making sure everyone knows to maintain a minimum 10-foot clearance in all directions from power lines. It can be difficult to estimate distance, and sometimes a power line is closer than it looks. A spotter, someone with a broader view, can help."
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. "Don't try to maneuver out of the power lines yourself. You could make an incredibly dangerous situation even worse."
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.
"Leave the cab only if staying on it too dangerous, as in the case of fire. Then you must jump-not step-with both feet 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.
Owners and managers should make sure full-time and seasonal workers are educated on these safety precautions. Potentially dangerous areas need to be identified and marked as such. Designate preplanned routes that avoid these areas.
You may want to consider moving or burying power lines around buildings or busy pathways. When planning a new out building or farm structure, contact your electric utility for information on minimum safe clearances from overhead and underground power lines. Only the utility can measure line height. No one should attempt this without professional assistance.
For more electrical safety information, visit SafeElectricity.org.