Farmers Urged to Look Up during Harvest Season
Illinois farmers are getting an early start on the harvest season this year. Harvest brings long grueling hours in the field, which can make workers weary and prone to forget the safety precautions that can prevent serious or fatal electrical injuries. Every year, an average 62 farm workers are electrocuted in the United States and many more are injured, according to Labor Department statistics.
Safe Electricity urges farm operators, family members, and employees to beware of overhead power lines, to keep farm equipment safely away, and to know what to do if accidental contact is made with power lines. Safe Electricity urges all farm workers to visit www.SafeElectricity.org and watch the video story of farmer Jim Flach, who was fatally injured as he climbed down from his equipment that was in contact with overhead power lines.
The increasing size of farm equipment, particularly grain tanks on combines that have become higher with extensions, allow operators to come perilously close to overhead power lines over entrances to fields. It is vital to keep equipment safely away from them—a minimum 10-foot safety radius around the electric line.
“The No. 1 cause of electrocution on the farm is an auger that hits a power line when being moved,” says Bob Aherin, Extension agricultural safety specialist, University of Illinois. Portable augers being maneuvered by hand around bin sites have caused the death of many farm workers who became the path to ground for electricity when the top of the auger touched overhead power lines. Always retract or lower augers when moving or transporting.
The most common equipment involved in power line accidents are portable grain augers, oversized wagons, large combines, and other tall equipment that come into contact with the overhead lines.
“Harvest time is the most likely period for farm-related injury accidents and fatalities,” Aherin says. Combines and other equipment loaded onto trailers can also hit power lines and can cause electrocutions, as can raising the bed of a truck to unload, he adds. That is exactly the reason for the tragic electrocution of a 53-year-old Michigan truck driver, who raised the bed of his semi-trailer truck while parked beneath a power line at the edge of a field. Colleagues said he was attempting to clean out the bed, and when he touched the truck bed he became the path to ground for the electricity.
Farm operators, family members, and farm employees are urged to take these measures:
· Use a spotter when moving tall loads near lines.
· Inspect farm equipment for transport height, and determine clearance with any power lines under which the equipment must pass.
· Make sure everyone knows what to do if accidental contact is made with power lines. These accidents are survivable is the right actions are taken.
“It’s almost always best to stay in the cab, call for help, and wait until the electric utility arrives to make sure power to the line is cut off. If the power line is energized and you step outside, your body becomes the path and electrocution is the result,” Aherin said. “Even if a power line is on the ground, there is still the potential for the area nearby to be energized. Stay inside the vehicle unless there’s fire or imminent risk of fire.”
In that case, the proper action is to jump—not step—with both feet hitting the ground at the same time. Jump clear, without touching the vehicle and ground at the same time, and continue to shuffle or hop to safety keeping both feet together as you leave the area.
“Like the ripples in a pond or lake, the voltage diminishes the farther out it is from the source,” Aherin said. “Stepping from one voltage level to another allows the body to become a path for that electricity. A large difference in voltage between both feet could kill you. Be sure that at no time you or anyone touches the equipment and the ground at the same time. Never should the operator simply step out of the vehicle—the person must jump clear.”
To learn more about electrical safety visit www.SafeElectricity.org.