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4 Electrical Safety Tips for Farmers

Farmers work in settings that may border on idyllic, but the risks they face are real. In fact, agriculture is America’s most dangerous industry, according to the National Safety Council. 

One of the most deadly hazards is an essential part of any modern farming operation: electricity. Just like lightning, man-made electricity has negatively charged particles that draw it to the ground, which is positively charged. Every year, dozens of farmworkers are electrocuted and others are injured when they become electricity’s path to the ground.  

1. Look Up and Look Out

A lot of risk comes with utility poles and lines located around farmers’ property, says Krista Lisser, communications director for Safe Electricity, an Illinois-based program of the nonprofit Energy Education Council. “Farmers are often driving huge machinery and think they have enough clearance when they don’t,” she explains. “We want people to be aware where utilities are located on their property.” 

If the equipment you’re handling comes into contact with a power line – or even gets too close to it – it can become energized. Safe Electricity recommends keeping all equipment at least 10 feet away from overhead power lines, in all directions. Remember to take that minimum clearance into account when raising and lowering farm equipment, and always lower extensions to the lowest setting when moving loads. 

Many electrical accidents occur because farmers, focused on the task at hand, fail to look up and around. A second set of eyes can make all the difference. 

“Use a spotter when operating large machinery near power lines or moving augers and other long equipment around on the ground,” says Lisser, recalling the tragic case of a Minnesota father and son who were electrocuted in 2016 as they lifted a portable auger and it came into contact with a power line.

2. Stay in the Cab

As the size of the machinery used by farmers grows, so do electrical risks. 

“Farm machinery is getting bigger and it’s loaded with technology, but some GPS units will not recognize a utility line,” cautions Lisser. “We see a lot of instances where tractors run into utility poles and the driver steps out and is shocked or electrocuted because the line is still energized.” 

Sadly, that is exactly what happened to central Illinois farmer Jim Flach after an arm of the crop sprayer he was operating became tangled with an overhead power line. Climbing down from the cab, Flach stepped down from the metal ladder to the ground and inadvertently became the electricity’s path to the ground. He suffered severe electrical burns that would claim his life six months later. 

If the machinery you are driving comes into contact with a power line, the safest place to be is in the cab. 

“Stay in the cab, call 911, and report to the dispatcher that a power line is down. Then wait until utility crews arrive to make sure the line is de-energized,” says Lisser.

3. Keep feet together

If a fire forces you to exit the vehicle, jump clear, keeping your feet together. Then, shuffle or hop away from the scene, with feet together. If you attempt to walk away, you could step into two different voltage levels and become a path for electricity to travel through. Even if it’s not arcing or sparking, never assume a downed power line is dead.

Busy farmers often feel there aren’t enough hours in a day. But hurrying can put them on a fast track to danger. Lisser offers this powerful reminder: “Slow down, look up, and make sure you’re clear of power lines.” 

4. Know What’s Below

While looking out for overhead power lines, farmers should also be mindful of hidden hazards underground. Call 811 to have underground gas facilities located and marked before digging.

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