Importance of farm safety
Basic safety precautions can mean the difference between life and death for agricultural workers in the South West working with or close to electricity.
Rural insurance firm Cornish Mutual, which has over 24,000 members across Cornwall, Devon, Somerset and Dorset, is highlighting the dangers of electrocution and severe electric shock as part of its FarmSafe campaign in a bid to cut the number of deaths and serious injuries in agriculture.
On average, two people are killed by electricity every year in agriculture in the UK, with many more injured or escaping with near misses, according to the Health and Safety Executive.
In Cornwall there were two electricity-related fatalities on farms in 2011.
Top of the list of risks is overhead power lines which can range from 230 to 400,000 volts and which remain the most common cause of accidents and deaths.
But poorly maintained electrical installations and equipment can be lethal to those operating them, as well as having the potential to cause fires, resulting in significant losses in buildings, equipment and livestock.
Philip Wilson, field force manager for Cornish Mutual, said: "Because of the dangers associated with overhead lines the first and most obvious advice is to avoid contact with these by keeping tall machinery or extending equipment, such as combines, sprayer booms, handlers, tipper vehicles, ladders and irrigation pipes, well away at all times.
Electricity can jump gaps, so just getting too close can cause a flash-over and potentially fatal shock, as can a jet of water or slurry touching or near lines.
"All farmers should have a map of the power lines that run across their land – available from the local Distribution Network Operator such as Western Power Distribution – and by noting where they run and their height, work can be planned around them.
The phone number of the DNO should be prominently displayed in the cabs of all vehicles, so if you do hit an overhead line you can call them to turn it off.
"Farm workers also need to beware of falling into the trap of becoming so familiar with even clearly visible lines that they simply stop being aware of them."
Farmer Ian Davey counts himself lucky to have survived after his trailer tipped up and touched an overhead power line carrying 11,000 volts.
Unaware the tipper was in contact with the power line, Ian, from Trerulefoot, near Liskeard, suffered burns, broke his arm and dislocated his shoulder when he was hit by a surge of electricity as he stepped down from his tractor.
He said: "Farms are very dangerous places and there are lots of hazards which we're not always fully aware of.
We're always in a hurry to get a job done, usually influenced by the weather, and often we don't stand back and look at the dangers involved. My message is to look up and be aware of power lines."
Other electricity-related hazards, especially after the recent bad weather, include fallen lines, which should always be assumed to be still live, and underground cables, where it is a good idea to contact the utility companies before starting excavations.
Many accidents involve poorly-maintained handheld equipment and extension cables, so the wiring and condition of all portable tools – including hired or borrowed – should be regularly inspected.
Tools should be connected through an RCD, to cut off power quickly if there is an earth fault, or if possible operated at reduced voltage from a safety isolating transformer.
Mr Wilson added: "With electricity, as with so much in agriculture, assessing the risks and taking simple precautions can mean the difference between life and death, as can knowing what to do should an accident occur and ensuring you and your farm workers have adequate first-aid training."
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