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Harvest workers urged caution to yield fewer electrical accidents     Send a link to a friend

[SEPT. 7, 2004]  URBANA -- Harvest season can yield higher numbers of electrocution, shock and burn injuries. Nationwide, an average 60 agricultural workers are electrocuted and hundreds more injured in electrical accidents each year. In Illinois, statistics compiled by the University of Illinois indicate 24 electrocution deaths have occurred on farms in the past seven years, according to U of I Extension researcher Chip Petrea.

"Equipment contacting overhead power lines is the leading cause of farm electrocution accidents in the Midwest," says Bob Aherin, University of Illinois agricultural safety specialist. "Many of these accidents occur near grain bins, when augers make contact with power lines."

To prevent tragic accidents, the public awareness program Safe Electricity joins Extension Services in urging farm workers to review farm activities and work practices that take place around power lines.

"Take note when moving equipment like portable grain augers, oversized wagons and large combines. Everyone who works on the farm should know the location of power lines and keep farm equipment at least 10 feet away from them," says Molly Hall, director of Safe Electricity.

"The minimum 10-foot distance is a 360-degree rule -- below, to the side and above lines. Ensuring proper clearance can save lives."

Moving portable grain augers poses the greatest risk because those who are on the ground moving the equipment would provide a direct path for electricity if there's a contact with overhead wires.

"Always lower grain augers before moving them, even if it's only a few feet. Variables like wind, uneven ground, shifting weight or other conditions can combine to create an unexpected result," Aherin said. "Also use extreme caution when raising the bed of a grain truck. It can be difficult to estimate distance, and sometimes a power line is closer than it looks. A spotter or someone with a broader view can help."

Farm workers also are advised not to use metal poles when breaking up bridged grain inside and around bins and are advised to use qualified electricians for work on drying equipment and other farm electrical systems.

Some equipment safety considerations:

  • Always lower portable augers or elevators to their lowest possible level -- under 14 feet -- before moving or transporting; use care when raising them.
  • When moving large equipment or high loads near a power line, always use a spotter or someone to help make certain that contact is not made with a line.
  • Be aware of increased height when loading and transporting larger modern tractors with higher antennas.
  • Never attempt to raise or move a power line to clear a path!

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"It's also important for operators of farm equipment or vehicles to know what to do if the vehicle comes in contact with a power line," Hall says. "It's almost always best to stay in the cab and call for help. Warn others who may be nearby to stay away 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 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."

In that case, the proper action is to jump -- not step -- with both feet hitting the ground at the same time. Do not allow any part of your body to touch the equipment and the ground at the same time. Continue to hop or shuffle to safety, keeping both feet together as you leave the area.

Once you get away from the equipment, never attempt to get back on or even touch the equipment. Many electrocutions occur when the operator dismounts and, realizing nothing has happened, tries to get back on the equipment.

As in any outdoor work, be careful not to raise any equipment such as ladders, poles or rods into power lines. Remember, nonmetallic materials such as lumber, tree limbs, tires, ropes and hay will conduct electricity, depending on dampness and dust and dirt contamination.

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 and home electrical safety, visit Spanish versions of farm electric safety information also are available on that site.

Safe Electricity is an electrical safety public awareness program comprised of several dozen Midwestern organizations, including the University of Illinois, electric cooperatives and investor-owned electric utilities dedicated to promoting electric safety and efficiency.

[University of Illinois news release]

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