Dealing with overhead power lines is a constant in agriculture. While we have all heard repeatedly the dangers of encountering electrical lines, it is easy to become complacent and even see powe lines as part of the landscape. It is an important safety reminder that needs to be reviewed constantly.

Applicators with booms are a primary exposure to contacting overhead lines. Their size and visual limitations create complications and are often parked next to roadside power lines to connect with tender trucks. Also, the increased size of tractors and implements throughout the years have made them more vulnerable to power line contact due to height, width and limited visibility.

In addition to roadsides, overhead lines around the home, storage buildings, and grain operations need to be recognized, with traffic patterns designed and barriers put in place to avoid contact. Also be aware that hitting poles and support cables (guy wires) can bring down power lines to initiate electrical contact. Assess and identify such exposures at fields to be entered, work areas, and even travel routes.

As a good general rule, keep equipment at least 50 feet away from power lines when parking, loading, and unloading. Warm temperatures, high electric use, and weather elements can cause lines to sag and swing to various degrees, so a safe buffer distance is required. Remember, an electrical arc can “jump” several feet between equipment and high voltage power lines.

Safe Electricity, which is under the University of Illinois Extension umbrella, has a website, SafeElectricity.org, with good information to educate and bring awareness to electrical safety. They have put together videos about five minutes in length that gives a testimony of a farmer, Cody Conrady, who encountered an electrical shock from high voltage lines that changed his and his family’s life. Go online, SafeElectricity.org/farm-safety. The area where he was standing and the equipment were energized for only “a split second or two,” according to Conrady. It serves as a great reminder and resource to share with others to be aware of and avoid power lines, and what to do if there is an encounter.

Both the equipment operator and the other helpers in the work area need to routinely be aware and communicate when overhead lines are present or near. It is too easy to get distracted with other issues, or complacent when power lines are present. If contact is made with a power line, the danger is both to the operator when they touch ground upon exiting, and the workers as they unknowingly make contact with the equipment or the ground. Regardless of the voltage, the damage is enough to be life altering.

Kevin Frye serves as GROWMARK’s safety services manager.