Farm Safety & Health: Farm Electrical Safety

  • Petrea, Robert (Chip)

Many hazards that farmers deal with are routine, everyday exposures. As a result of this routine, the farmer could perceive the risk as less than it really is. Few things are more standard today than electricity. Depended upon to make our lives easier and more comfortable, electricity may only become a consideration when it is NOT where we need or want it. This situation can and does cause death, injury, and property damage every year.

While most of us keep our distance from transformers and equipment that requires large amounts of electricity, we tend to overlook other situations-a small light bulb, for instance. The current used by a 7½-watt Christmas tree light bulb is only 60/1000 (60 milliamperes) ampere. This is much more than the 8-10/1000 (8-10 milliamperes) ampere that does not allow a person to let go of a wire with current running through it. If the current goes through the heart, cardiac arrest can occur. One can imagine the results from 20 or 30 amperes, the sizes of the smallest fuses or breakers commonly in use. While it is true that a person can survive a much higher current, that possibility is not something that should be counted on. Items that are overlooked and can cause problems include:

  1. Electrical Panels: Many newer electrical installations use breakers; however, many older panels use fuses.
  1. Always use the proper-sized fuses or breakers in the boxes. Use of the proper size will prevent overheating of the wire from excess current. If a fuse is repeatedly blown, or a breaker is repeated tripped, find the cause.
  1. All panels should lock, and fuse boxes should be locked in the "off" position. This will prevent turning on the power while you are working on equipment or wiring.
  2. Periodically check the panel and boxes for spider webs and mouse and insect nests, particularly the older installations that may not be sealed properly. Cleaning around the panels may seem useless but can help to prevent overheating.
  1. Outlets: It is preferable that all outlets be of the three-prong grounded type.
  • Many older outlets have only two slots, which will need an adapter for three-prong tools. Also, if old enough, the slots can be the same size rather than one slot being longer. Consideration should be given to replacing outlets that will not accept three-prong adapters. Upgrading outlets to the grounded type will provide the most protection.
  • In areas that tend to remain wet, a ground fault circuit interrupter is necessary. These devices can interrupt a power surge in as little as 25/1000 of a second. Adapters to plug into three-prong outlets are available, in order to provide protection at the outlet. In addition, ground fault circuit interrupter breakers are available to protect a whole circuit.
    C.  Extension Cords:
  • Many times an extension cord that is being used "temporarily" can become "permanent". If a piece of equipment is going to stay in one place for any length of time, it should have a properly grounded outlet. Extension cords can be damaged from being walked on and by heavy items being dropped on them.
  • Another misuse of an extension cord occurs when it does not contain wire long enough for the tool being used. Even if used only for a short period of time, a wire used with a tool that is too large for its capacity could cause heat to build up and damage the insulation on the wires. This damage could remain unseen for a long time, thus giving rise to a potentially hazardous situation.
  1. Outside Hazards:
  1. Make sure outside electric lines are high enough to allow machinery to pass
  2. safely underneath. This is especially true around grain bins where grain augers are being used. The number one electrical hazard on a farm is the potential contact from a grain auger.
  3. Periodically check the grounding rods and wires around buildings and power poles. These rods and wires can become damaged and broken. If damaged, the overall system will not provide adequate grounding protection. Since electricity follows the easiest path to ground, these grounding rods and wires are the major source of providing that easy path.

These recommendations are only a few of those that relate to electricity and its safe use. For specific questions related to your operation, your electrical provider is the best source for answers.

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