Contrary to the popular image of fresh air and peaceful surroundings, a farm is not a hazard-free work setting. Every year, thousands of farm workers are injured and hundreds more die in farming accidents. According to the National Safety Council, agriculture is the most hazardous industry in the nation.
Make your farm and your home safer for you and your family. Start by increasing your awareness of farming hazards and making a conscious effort to prepare for emergency situations including fires, vehicle accidents, electrical shocks from equipment and wires, and chemical exposures. Be especially alert to hazards that may affect children and the elderly. Minimize hazards by carefully selecting the products you buy to ensure that you provide good tools and equipment. Always use seat belts when operating tractors. Establish and maintain good housekeeping practices.
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. Relied 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 Items that are overlooked and can cause problems include:
- Many newer electrical installations use breakers; however, many older panels use fuses.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Make sure outside electric lines are high enough to allow machinery to pass.
- 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.
- 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.
The National Center for Agricultural Safety in Peosta, Iowa, is a valuable resource which offers safety education and proactive programs to help prevent incidents that could affect your agribusiness safety and welfare.