Over the years, electrically powered farm equipment has become an indispensable element of modern farming.
With the widespread use of electricity on the farm, more emphasis needs to be placed on using electricity and electrical equipment safely. Nationally, approximately 100 people a year are electrocuted on farms. A better understanding of the principles, uses and hazards associated with electricity could have prevented many of these deaths.
This article will identify some of these hazards and help you to remember the importance of electrical maintenance.
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.
The main distribution system on a farmstead should always be large enough to accommodate present demand and future expansion. Proper installation of the electrical system is essential for safety.
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 (NEC) is the minimum standard to follow.
Only qualified electricians should install electrical systems.
Below 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: Not checking electrical panels, lighting, equipment, connections and outlets.
Solution: On the farm, there may be mice, bugs, spider webs and dust that can destroy connections and electrical boxes. Check for wires that have been chewed by mice, or covered in dust and spider webs. Be sure to turn off the power, repair all chewed wires, and blow off any dust or webs with an air hose before energizing any equipment.
Mistake: Not checking all wiring, connections and electrical motors on tractors, combines and trucks.
Solution: Check all flashers, slow-moving vehicle signs, and battery and light connections. Before you leave, be sure everything is in proper working order.
Mistake: Underestimating the distance between the equipment and the 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: Not properly training employees on lockout/blockout methods or sequence.
Solution: Only trained employees should be authorized to lock out electrical machinery. Ensure that the energy source is properly disconnected and locked.
Mistake: Not wearing the correct personal protective equipment for the job.
Solution: Every job is different and the PPE should be, as well. Some jobs require protective shields or barriers, and others need insulated gloves and/or rubber-soled shoes. Know the job and the equipment so you can prepare to do the job safely.
Mistake: Letting wiring or cables get wet.
Solution: Many agricultural facilities have severe environments that require special attention when installing and maintaining electrical systems. Threats to the system come from a number of sources. The vapors from animal waste in confinement housing can corrode electrical components. High humidity in milking facilities can rapidly deteriorate conventional metal electrical boxes. Livestock, equipment and people can cause physical damage to wiring, boxes and light fixtures.
To minimize your risk:
- Use underground feeder (UF) 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 light bulbs.
- 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.
- 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. When conductors 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 allow continuous inspection.
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.