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SPOTLIGHT
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Farm safety around electrical power lines

Published on -7/30/2013, 9:47 AM

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In June, a 37-year-old Stanton County farmer died inside a grain cart while preparing for wheat harvest. A tarp (containing a metal rod) in the grain cart blew up and touched an over-head power line electrocuting him.

Without a doubt this falls in the category of a freak accident. There's probably no way this young farmer would have thought a strong gust of wind would whip the tarp up into an overhead power line and kill him. Still, friends and neighbors in his community say they were extremely aware of where they parked trucks, tractors and other farm machinery after this tragedy.

Since 1980, 26 Kansas farmers and stockmen have died by electrocution. Most of these deaths resulted in contact with overhead power lines on the farm.

No one likes to think or talk about the dangers of electricity and the consequences. Still, it's important to be aware of potential hazards -- especially in agriculture.

"Many farms in Kansas have power lines strung on poles crossing farm land and in some cases buried under ground; it's important to be aware of electrical facts and principles and observe safety precautions," says Holly Higgins, Kansas Farm Bureau safety director.

Higgins suggests farmers, ranchers and anyone who works around electric power lines consider and always keep the following facts in the back of their mind.

Most overhead power lines have no protective insulation. Any physical or equipment contact with them could be dangerous or lethal.

Non-metallic materials such as lumber, tree limbs, tires, ropes, straw and hay can conduct electricity depending on moisture content and surface contamination.

Electricity always seeks the easiest and shortest path to the ground.

People can be electrocuted by simply coming too close to a power line. Electricity can arc or jump between a wire and a conducting object such as a ladder or truck.

Always stay a safe distance away from power lines -- 10 feet or more, especially for high-voltage lines.

When people or objects touch or come to close to a power line, there is an instant flow of electricity through them to the ground.

The flow of electricity through the human body can burn, severely injure or cause death. It takes less than one ampere of electricity to kill a person.

When electricity flows into the ground, it can electrocute anyone who comes close. Stay at least 30 feet or more away from fallen wires. Also, if you see equipment or a person in contact with a power line, be aware that the ground may be electrified and be dangerous to bystanders.

"It's important we learn from others' mistakes," Higgins says. "Always think before you act and remain vigilant about your surroundings and possible safety hazards."

Think before you move farm machinery, hoppers, bins, sprayer booms, cultivator wings, grain augers, bale elevators, scaffolds and portable buildings around or under power lines.

Look before you raise or carry ladders, poles, rods, irrigation pipes or eaves troughs near power lines.

Check clearance before you raise dump truck boxes or front-end loaders.

Never touch power lines with tools or lift power lines by hand or with lumber.

Never clear storm-damaged trees, limbs or other debris that are touching or are close to fallen power lines.

Avoid cutting trees or pruning limbs that may fall on power lines. Hire a specialist to take care of such hazardous projects.

Never try to move fallen electrical wires. Never leave a vehicle when you are within 30 feet of fallen wires.

Educate children, young and seasonal workers about power line hazards, Higgins advises. Point out where they're located and remind workers about the importance of keeping a safe distance especially if they will be operating equipment or handling long objects.

Hoxie native John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas who writes for the Kansas Farm Bureau.

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