Columbus, Neb. – Harvest season is one of the most satisfying times of the year on the farm. It’s the culmination of many long hours of effort in raising crops. However, the long grueling hours in the field can make workers weary and prone to forget safety precautions that can prevent serious or fatal electrical injuries.
Nebraska Public Power District and its wholesale public power partners urge farm operators, family members, and employees to beware of overhead power lines, keep farm equipment safely away, and know what to do if accidental contact is made with power lines.
“Looking up and around when working in the fields this harvest season is important,” explained NPPD Transmission and Distribution Manager Joel Dagerman. “Taking a few minutes to look for overhead electric lines may be life-saving time well spent. Unfortunately we saw an increase of situations involving farm equipment this past spring becoming entangled in power lines.”
Every year, an average of 62 farm workers are electrocuted in the United States and many more are injured, according to Labor Department statistics.
“Failure to notice overhead power lines can be a deadly oversight, especially those in end row areas that can be easily overlooked,” Dagerman said.
End rows are an area where farm equipment can accidentally become entangled in the power lines. Remaining inside the equipment until help arrives is critical to everyone’s safety. Dagerman said that those involved in harvesting work should understand any contact with power lines carries the potential for a serious or fatal accident. Electricity can arc to the equipment if it comes close to the line.
“It’s always best to call for help, and wait until the local electric utility arrives to make sure the line is de-energized. If the power line is energized and you step outside, your body becomes the path and electrocution could happen,” he said. “Even if a power line is on the ground, there is still the potential for the area nearby to be energized unless there’s fire or imminent risk of fire.”
If you must exit, the proper action is to jump – not step – with both feet hitting the ground at the same time. Jump clear, without touching the vehicle and ground at the same time, and continue to shuffle to safety, keeping both feet together as you leave the area.
“Like the ripples in a pond or lake, the voltage diminishes the farther out it is from the source,” Dagerman pointed out. “Be sure that at no time you or anyone touches the equipment and the ground at the same time. Never should the operator simply step out of the vehicle — the person must jump clear.”
NPPD urges farmers to take safety precautions before entering the fields to begin harvest operations.
- Each day, review all farm activities and work practices that will take place around power lines and remind all workers to take precautions.
- Know the location of power lines, and when setting up the farm equipment, be at least 20 feet away from them. Contact your local power provider if you feel this distance cannot be achieved.
- Use care when raising augers or the bed of a grain truck. It can be difficult to estimate distance, and sometimes a power line is closer than it looks. When moving large equipment or high loads near a power line, always use a spotter to make certain contact is not made with the line.
- Always adjust portable augers or elevators to their lowest possible level – under 14 feet – before moving or transporting them. Variables like wind, uneven ground, shifting weight, or other conditions can combine to create an unexpected result.
- 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!
- As in any outdoor work, be careful not to raise any equipment such as ladders, poles, or rods into power lines. Remember, non-metallic materials such as lumber, tree limbs, tires, ropes, and hay will conduct electricity depending on dampness and dust and dirt contamination.
“NPPD promotes a strong safety culture with our workforce, and we hope that it carries into the field with our customers. With good planning, looking up and around, we can all have a safe harvest season,” Dagerman added.