Stay Safe Around Electricity on the Farm

Farming is the ninth most dangerous job in the U.S., according to a 2012 report from TIME magazine, which cited heavy equipment and large animals as hazards.

Those at Indiana Electric Cooperatives (IEC) want you to be aware of another hazard on farms —electrocution. Every year, 62 farm workers are electrocuted in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

“These deaths can be prevented,” said Rick Coons, CEO at IEC. “It’s important that those who live and work on farms know the risks and understand how they can unknowingly come into contact with electricity.”

The most common risk of electrocution for farm workers, according to the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, comes from overhead power lines because tall equipment, such as grain augers, combines and raised dump truck beds can easily become entangled in the lines.

Grain bins also pose a danger. The National Electrical Safety Code requires power lines to be at least 18 feet above the highest point on any grain bin with which portable augers or other portable filling equipment are used.

Farmers are encouraged to call IEC if they plan to install new grain bins or if they are concerned about the proximity of power lines to existing structures or equipment.

Farm owners are responsible for making sure all components of the farm’s electrical system are functioning correctly to protect themselves and their workers. The Indiana Department of Agriculture suggests property owners contact local government offices to find out about any local codes for installing electrical distribution systems or building electric fences.

“The main distribution system on a farm should be large enough to accommodate present demand and future expansion,” said Coons. “If you have expanded your farm in recent years or simply want to make sure all components of your farm’s electrical system are functioning properly, please contact IEC.”

Livestock farms often use electric fencing to contain animals. IEC reminds farmers to regularly monitor and service their electric fence chargers to ensure a safe amount of current is running through the wire. A volt meter can be used to test that the fence is functioning properly.

Many farms have standby generators on hand in case of power outages. “When a standby generator is used on a single-phase system, it must be connected to the farm’s wiring system through a double-pole, double-throw transfer switch,” said Coons. “This switch disconnects the farm’s electric system from IEC’s lines during an outage, which prevents backfeed to keep our linemen safe.”

Another safety tip for farmers is to install waterproof and dustproof electrical boxes and outlets. The Virginia Cooperative Extension points out farms are dusty, moist and corrosive environments. Taking these types of precautions makes the use of electricity safer and more reliable.

The Indiana Department of Agriculture stresses the importance of electricity to Indiana’s agricultural industry. Electrical safety is critical for making Indiana’s farms productive.

Sources: TIME Magazine; U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration;Iowa State University Extension and Outreach; Indiana Department of Agriculture; Virginia Cooperative Extension