Farmers urged to watch for overhead power lines and electrical hazards during harvest season

Staff Writer
Aledo Times Record

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.

The 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 near the end rows may get overlooked during such a hectic time of year as harvest. Failure to notice overhead power lines can be a deadly oversight.

Most farmsteads could use a very careful overhead visual inspection of electric lines. The service may no longer meet the proper height codes because of 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 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 of where equipment will be moving should be conducted to ensure that it will clear power lines. Don’t take matters into your own hands, if there is a potential problem.  Wires may not be as high as they look. Never undertake the height measurement of the lines without the on-site help of utility company officials.

Always maintain a 10 foot separation from a power line - above, below and on the sides - whether you are driving underneath or passing a grain auger near it. A 35 year old truck driver cleaning out his truck unknowingly raised the bed into a 4,800 volt overhead power line in Macoupin County. When he touched the tailgate he was electrocuted. At Chillicothe a 51 year old farmer died when he tried to clear the water from the tarp covering his truck and it touched a power line.

A simple task of moving a grain auger from one bin to another ended in a family tragedy. A Christian County farmer and his teenaged nephew were electrocuted when an auger they were moving touched an overhead power line.

Another potential electrical problem occurs if frayed wiring on a dryer fan or electrical auger allows the bin to become energized. Equipment that has vibration such as grain unloading equipment can damage wiring or unloosen grounding connections and jeopardize the safety of anyone around them.

Field repairs with farm welders can also become fatal accidents. Long days full of stress, followed by broken equipment that requires a welding repair is a combination for tragedy.  Frayed and worn leads touching someone will electrocute them. Being burned by hot metal is one thing, but suffering a fatal shock from the welder or a ground gradient is something else. Always keep in mind that electricity doesn’t allow mistakes. And neither should you.

For more information and videos on electrical safety, visit Safe Electricity is a program of the Energy Education Council, a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting electrical safety and energy efficiency, and supported by a coalition of hundreds of organizations, including electric utilities, educators and other entities committed to promoting safe use of electricity.