It can be an exciting and exhausting time, the culmination of a season of hard work. However, the rush to harvest can also yield tragic outcomes. Each year, dozens of farm workers are killed and hundreds are injured in accidents involving power lines and electrical equipment.
“Things people see every day can fade from view and in the busy-ness of harvest time, it’s easy for farm workers to forget about the power lines overhead,” says Richard McCracken of the Safe Electricity Advisory Board. “But failure to notice them can be a deadly oversight.”
Review with all workers the farm activities that take place around power lines. Inspect the height of farm equipment to determine clearance. Keep equipment at least 10 feet away from power lines – above, below and to the side – a 360-degree rule.
“Always lower grain augers before moving them, even if it’s only a few feet,” says Bob Aherin, PhD, CSP & University of Illinois Professor and Agricultural Safety & Health Program Leader. “Variables like wind, uneven ground, shifting weight or other conditions can combine to create an unexpected result Also use extreme caution when raising the bed of a grain truck.”
Farm workers should take these steps to ensure a safer harvest season:
Operators of farm equipment or vehicles must also know what to do if the vehicle comes in contact with a power line: Stay on the equipment, warn others to stay away and call 911. Do not get off the equipment until the utility crew says it is safe to do so.
“If the power line is energized and you step outside, touching the vehicle and ground, your body becomes the path and electrocution is the result,” Aherin said. “Even if a power line has landed on the ground, the potential for the area nearby to be energized still exists. Stay inside the vehicle unless there’s fire or imminent risk of fire.”
If this is the case, jump off the equipment with your feet together, without touching the ground and vehicle at the same time. Then, still keeping your feet together, hop to safety as you leave the area.
Once you get away from the equipment, never attempt to get back on or even touch the equipment. Some electrocutions have occurred after the operator dismounts and, realizing nothing has happened, tries to get back on the equipment.
It is very important that all farm workers and seasonal employees are informed of electrical hazards and trained in proper procedures to avoid injury.
For more information on farm electrical safety, visit www.SafeElectricity.org.
Rob Ford is Tipmont and Wintek's communication director, a role he's held since 2015.
Rob has a bachelor's and a master's in Communication from Purdue University. He lives in West Lafayette with his wife and three children and has a life-sized Yoda statue in his office. Away from the office, you’ll find Rob working on his golf swing, jump shot, or hope for a Purdue basketball national title – all futile endeavors.