Molly Hall, Director, Safe Electricity
Avoid reaping tragedy
How to prepare for a safe harvest season
This summer we’ve seen several tragedies on the farm involving irrigation equipment. Now harvest season is upon us and it also is a significant time to be aware of dangers. Preparing grain bins, grain handling equipment, and harvesting equipment will all require good electrical safety practices and electrical equipment that is in good working condition.
Preparing grain bins to store the new crop begins with a good cleaning. If you are using portable vacuum cleaners, ensure the plug is tight and pins are not bent. Extension cords should be rated for the power drawn by the vacuum and insulation should not be frayed. An extension cord with a nick in the insulation can put a hot wire in contact with a metal drying floor and energize the floor and the bin.
“Have a professional check the integrity of the wiring on drying fans and electrically powered augers,” recommends Bob Aherin, Agriculture Safety Specialist with the University of Illinois. “Vibrations from many hours of use from season to season can loosen grounding wires that are undetected.”
A 43-year-old Nebraska farmer was electrocuted while shoveling corn into an auger. A loose wire inside the auger motor allowed the auger and the bin to be energized and when he stepped out the door he became the path to ground for the deadly current.
If your bin site is served by electricity from overhead power lines, Safe Electricity strongly urges the burial of those wires. Within the span of four days in October of 1985, five farm workers were electrocuted in two locations where they were moving grain augers by hand and the top of the augers contacted overhead power lines. Five of the workers received fatal shocks when they became the path to ground for the electricity and three others were injured.
When making repairs on farm equipment in preparation for harvest, ensure that the power cord and the leads on your portable welding equipment are in good condition. If the cables are not intact, the user could unknowingly become the path to ground for the electricity. That was the case with older welding equipment being used by a Michigan farmer who was electrocuted while making repairs on equipment. Investigators said several problems with the welder could have caused the death. While most concerns with welders are being burned by hot metal, the potential for electrocution should always be foremost in your mind if making repairs on trucks, wagons, combines, augers or other harvest time equipment.
As combines and other slow moving farm equipment are on the roadways at dusk, check wiring harnesses on head lights, tail lights, and flashing lights to ensure other vehicle operators are aware of your presence and potentially slower speed. A flashing light that is inoperable because of a broken wire can be the weak link in the chain that results in a tragic collision.
Before you head down the road in your combine, visibly check the entrances to your fields to ensure that you can safely pass under any overhead power lines. With larger equipment, longer unloading augers, and higher grain tanks many combines will be unable to remain beyond the recommended 10-foot distance around an overhead line. Touching the line with part of the combine, such as the auger or even an antenna can cause the equipment to become energized. If you find power lines that are sagging, and will not allow you to safely enter a field, call your electric cooperative. Do not try to raise the line yourself or make your own adjustments.
The increasingly larger size of farm equipment continues to pose problems when used near overhead lines. That scenario is the focus of the 2011 Teach Learn Care TLC campaign for Safe Electricity, which tells the story of a farmer whose crop sprayer contacted a power line and he was fatally burned when he stepped onto the ground. See the Jim Flach video at: www.SafeElectricity.org to learn the importance of using a spotter and avoiding contact with power lines, as well as steps to survive if accidental contact with equipment is made.
Molly Hall is the Director of Safe Electricity. E-mail: molly-hall@SafeElectricity.org. Safe Electricity is a public awareness program of the Energy Education Council www.EnergyEdCouncil.org.