With the onset of electrical service to farms throughout the mid-century, rural families and businesses were aided in efficiency, hygienic practices, food storage/handling, and some impressive mechanical equipment upgrades. However, a whole new series of potential hazards were added and even today, are worth noting as the harvest season looms.
The obvious hazards, shock to both man and livestock, and fire, to buildings and equipment, are always a concern. According to the National Ag Safety Database, more than 30-40 people are electrocuted each year, while other databases, such as the Farm Injury Resource Center and the US Labor Department, indicate the number could be over 60. Hidden hazards, such as stray voltage, lack of circuit protection and grounding, humidity levels, and contact between equipment and power lines can equate to death, injury or burns, and income and production loss.
The advent of technology changes, particularly in field equipment, brought further safety awareness campaigns. Global Positioning Systems and the relative size of equipment, while furthering efficiency, added concerns such as reduced eyes-on-the-road focus and lack of visibility, particularly with long hours and the hazard of overhead lines.
MiEnergy frequently puts out safety notices and newsletters throughout the year, but as the harvest season draws near, the emphasis on safety grows even stronger. “Look up and live is a good saying to remember,” says Brad Pecinovsky, Safety and Compliance Coordinator for MiEnergy Cooperative. “Look up and be aware of your surroundings or potential hazards when working with or around agricultural equipment.”
“We distribute electricity to the location, so are involved in all ag projects within our service territory. The cooperative provides energy audits and assistance with ag producers submitting applications for energy efficiency grants to upgrade equipment,” he adds.
The company doesn’t work directly to provide safety solutions for member services, but works in partnership with area farms to ensure the system is safe and compliant with the National Electrical Safety Code, as well as working cooperatively with state inspections.
Regardless of all the safeguards, the individual must still be aware and focused. “If there are overhead electrical lines nearby, be sure to allow yourself additional clearance to ensure large equipment or augers to not go near lines or poles. Be mindful that utility poles can be along fields or in rights of way,” cautions Pecinovsky. “If planning to do any excavating ensure to contact the 811 before moving any dirt as underground electric, gas or communication facilities might be present. Fatigue can be an issue for ag producers working long hours during harvest — so pay attention to all potential hazards, including electrical.”
MiEnergy recommends contacting utility and electrical professionals early in the process of any work at agricultural facilities or operations to ensure safe operation and to further reduce hazards.
Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center, a multi-faceted center in partnership with the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and School of Veterinary Medicine, Minnesota Department of Health, National Farm Medicine Center, and Migrant Clinicians also provides a number of resources for farm safety. One easy step is to review the Farm Safety Checklist and see where improvements can be made. The Farm Safety Check can be found online at www.umash.umn.edu.