OVER THE years, electrically powered farm equipment has become an indispensable element of modern farming.

But every year about 100 farm workers are electrocuted on the job. A better understanding of the principles, uses and hazards associated with electricity could have prevented many of these deaths.

Below we identify some of these hazards and how you can avoid some of the most common mistakes farm owners make with electicity.

Electrical distribution system

Electricity is brought to a farm from a power company’s supply lines through the main service entrance. Normally, all power to the farm is metered at this point. The main disconnect should be located here, so that all power to the farm can be manually turned off at one point.

From the main service entrance, wires lead to each building or area service entrance through buried or overhead wires.

These service entrances should also be equipped with disconnects, so that power can be shut off to one site without affecting other areas.

Local codes should always be followed because their main purpose is to provide users with safe systems. If no electric code exists for your area, the National Electric Code is the minimum standard to follow. Only qualified electricians should install electrical systems.

Common mistakes

Here are some examples of mistakes and preventive solutions that highlight some of the electrical safety issues that can be encountered while working on a farm or ranch.

Mistake 1: Not checking electrical panels, lighting, equipment, connections and outlets.

Solution: Check for wires that have been chewed by mice, or covered in dust and spider webs. Turn off the power, repair damaged wires, and blow off dust or webs with an air hose before energizing equipment.

Mistake 2: Not inspecting wiring, connections and electrical motors on tractors, combines and trucks.

Solution: Check flashers, slow-moving-vehicle signs, battery and light connections before every shift.

Mistake 3: Underestimating distance between equipment and power lines.

Solution: Be aware of the total height of your equipment when loading, towing or transporting larger equipment. Make sure contact is not made with power lines or transformers. Finally, make sure that irrigation pipes are not lifted vertically near overhead power lines.

Mistake 4: Not training employees on lockout/blockout methods.

Solution: Only trained employees should be authorized to lock out electrical machinery. They should ensure that the energy source is properly disconnected and locked.

Mistake 5: Not wearing proper personal protective equipment.

Solution: PPE should tailored for each job. Some jobs require protective shields or barriers, and others need insulated gloves and rubber-soled shoes. Know the job and the equipment so you can prepare to do the job safely.

Mistake 6: Letting wiring or cables get wet.

Solution: Many agricultural facilities have challenging environments for installing and maintaining electrical systems.

To minimize your risk:

  • Use underground feeder electric cable.
  • Make sure all control boxes, light fixtures, switches and receptacles are made of corrosion-resistant materials.
  • Install watertight covers on receptacles and switches and over lights.
  • Locate the distribution panel away from severe environments.
    If a clean, dry area, such as an office, is not available, mount the distribution panel outside in a protected area of the farm.

  • Make sure that every electrical system component or piece of equipment located outside is watertight.
  • Run conductors through horizontal conduit and seal the conduit ends so moisture cannot enter the distribution panel. Whenconductors run from a warm, moist environment to a cold location, condensation can form and enter the distribution panel.
  • Inside farm buildings, mount wiring outside of walls to allowcontinuous inspection.

One last thing…

Finally, to avoid tragic accidents on the farm, make note of activities that take place around power lines and electrical equipment, and remember your checklists and safety precautions. Electrical safety is a serious matter, so always be on guard.

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