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Safe Electricity Plants Seeds Of Caution Around Power Lines

As farmers make plans to return to their fields for spring planting, Safe Electricity urges farm workers to be particularly alert to the dangers of working near overhead power lines. Operating large equipment near these lines is one of the often overlooked, yet potentially deadly, hazards of working on a farm.


Start by making sure everyone knows to maintain a minimum 10-foot clearance from power lines. “The minimum 10 foot distance is a 360-degree rule—below, to the side, and above lines,” says Erin Hollinshead, executive director of the Energy Education Council’s Safe Electricity program. “It can be difficult to estimate distance, and sometimes a power line is closer than it looks. A spotter or someone with a broader view can help.”

Be aware of increased height when loading and transporting tractors on trailer beds. Many tractors are now equipped with radios and communications systems that have very tall antennas extending from the cab that could make contact with power lines. Avoid raising the arms of planters or cultivators or raising truck beds near power lines, and never attempt to raise or move a power line to clear a path.

Simply coming too close to a power line while working is dangerous as electricity can arc or “jump” to conducting material or objects, such as a ladder, pole, or truck. Remember, non-metallic materials such as lumber, tree limbs, tires, ropes, and hay will conduct electricity depending on dampness, dust, and dirt contamination.

When guy wires (a grounded wire used to stabilize utility poles) are broken, these normally neutral wires can be anything but harmless. If you hit a guy wire and break it, call the utility to fix it. Do not do it yourself. When dealing with electrical poles and wires, always call the electric utility.

“If your equipment does come into contact with power lines, stay in the cab and call for help,” explains Hollinshead. “If the power line is energized and you step outside, your body becomes the path to the ground. Even if a line has landed on the ground, there is still potential for the area to be energized. Warn others who may be nearby to stay away and wait until the electric utility arrives.”

“If leaving the cab is necessary, as in the case of fire, the proper action is to jump—not step—with both feet together, hitting the ground at the same time,” Hollinshead advises. “Do not allow any part of your body to touch the equipment and the ground at the same time. Hop to safety, keeping both feet together as you leave the area.” Once you get away from the equipment, never attempt to get back on or even touch the equipment before the power has been shut off.

Managers should make sure full-time and seasonal workers are educated on these safety precautions, and danger areas need to be thoroughly identified and labeled. Designate preplanned routes that avoid hazard areas.

Farmers may want to consider moving or burying power lines around buildings or busy pathways. If planning a new out building or farm structure, contact your power supplier for information on minimum safe clearances from overhead and underground power lines. Call the local utility company to measure line height—no one should attempt this on their own without professional assistance.

For more electrical safety information, visit SafeElectricity.org.