Farm Safety Power Sources

There is a saying that carefulness costs you nothing, but carelessness may cost a life.

Sometimes, safety is regarded as an ideal, like integrity or honesty. However, for safety principles to be effective, they must be implemented. It’s great to believe in safety, but that alone will not save a life or prevent an injury.

It only takes a split second for someone to come into contact with electricity.

Your most seasoned worker to your least, family members, an ag-related worker leaving a load or applying fertilizer — any person on your farm is at risk of becoming injured or killed due to electrical contact.

Safety starts with you

Take steps to ensure everyone’s safety. Review power line locations and height clearance with anyone and everyone working on the farm or doing business there. One example of a hazard is when elevated dump truck beds contact or come too close to power lines (the topic of this column). However, the safety principles apply to any worker or visitor. During harvest or any time of year, here are some safety steps to implement.

Dump truck safety

1. Take time to go over potential hazards and be willing to spot the person driving when possible — even during a seemingly a straightforward task.

  • Encourage drivers to load and unload all materials away from overhead power lines.
  • Even better, create a dedicated drop zone away from all overhead power lines.
  • Post the 10-foot power line clearance rule and “look up and look out” reminders.

2. Educate drivers that potential electrical hazards for raising or lowering a truck bed include:

  • Direct contact with an overhead line or pole.
  • Indirect contact, which could cause electricity to jump/”arc.”
  • Entanglement that brings down wires, which can energize the truck and the ground.
  • Exposing others to stray voltage.

3. Encourage drivers to lower truck bed boxes before moving.

4. If you see the hydraulic truck bed comes within 10 feet of or contacts a power line, utility pole or guy-wire, instruct the driver to stay in the cab. Call 9-1-1 to have your electric cooperative or utility dispatched to deenergize the power. Give instructions from 50 feet away and inform everyone else to stay back.

5. Know how to instruct a driver to properly exit a cab if there is smoke or a fire. (Instruct from a distance of at least 50 feet away.) Anyone exiting the cab should cross their arms close to their chest and make a solid jump out. Then, they should make deliberate hops, with feet together, hopping away as far as they can. When people walk or run in a downed-line or stray voltage situation, they could be exposed to two different voltages at the same time and become electricity’s path to ground. This is known as step potential.

6. Never assume that because someone works in the agricultural industry that he or she understands the potential of stray voltage or other electrical hazards. In fact, do not assume this about anyone.

General tips

  • Start every workday with a staff safety meeting. Discuss all operations for the day and review power line/pole locations, as well as clearance.
  • Emphasize safety above speed to everyone on the farm, especially during busy seasons like harvest.
  • Encourage folding and unfolding to be done well into the field, not at the field’s edge, which could have power lines running next to it.
  • Do not store irrigation pipes, hay bales, machinery or anything else under power lines.
  • Be aware of power line locations in proximity to grain bins. If there is a nearby power line, always load and unload on the side without a power line. Contact your electric cooperative or utility with questions about grain bin power line clearance/OSHA regulations.

When in doubt, contact your electric cooperative or utility about damaged or downed power lines or poles, regardless of how it happened. Utility crews would much rather check out an issue than risk a potentially dangerous situation.

Have a wonderful harvest and stay safe out there. Learn more at SafeElectricity.org.

Erin Hollinshead serves as executive director of Safe Electricity.