According to the HSE on average, two people a year are killed by electricity on farms in the UK, and many more are seriously injured.
These incidents can devastate families and can cause serious damage to farm equipment, buildings and livestock.
The main cause of accidents is contact with overhead power lines (OHPLs) and cables, but poorly-maintained equipment and installations are also responsible for fires and accidents which can result in major injuries and substantial financial losses.
Your electrical system
It is vital that the electrical system on your farm should be properly designed, installed and maintained. Here is a checklist of items to make sure that any risks are minimised and that everyone on your farm stays safe:
1) Ensure that there is a clearly identified cut-off switch near all fixed machines so that power can be switched off quickly in an emergency.
2) Protect power cables by running them through conduits and ensure they have good earth connections.
3) Be certain there are enough sockets for the machines being used, as using adaptors may overload the socket and cause fires. Use appropriate sockets with RCD, residual current devices outdoors or in areas with damp or corrosive atmospheres.
4) Attach safety warnings to all equipment that may cause an electrical hazard.
5) Always isolate the power supply before carrying out any repair or maintenance work.
6) Identify all electrocution risks on your farm and restrict access to them.
Overhead power lines (OHPL)
Despite what some people think, you do not need to make contact with OHPLs for electricity to be a danger. Electricity can jump across gaps when machinery gets close to it, and if you touch the machinery you will receive an electric shock. This may result in serious burns or even death by electrocution. Reduce the risk by ensuring all farm staff receive relevant safety advice and those working alone or in high-risk areas carry a mobile phone containing the distribution network operator’s (DNO) telephone number.
Consult your DNO to map and record the heights of OHPLs on your farm to help you to plan safe working sites and routes. Check the maximum operating height for your machinery and equipment, including any equipment used by contractors.
Avoid working within a horizontal distance of 10 metres of OHPLs and pay particular attention when carrying out specific tasks such as stacking bales, moving ladders or pipes, tipping trailers, operating lift trucks, operating high machinery or carrying out tree work. If you have no option but to carry out work near OHPLs, contact your DNO to seek advice and, if necessary, find out if they can be re-routed, raised or put underground.
If a machine comes into contact with an OHPL, stay calm and telephone the DNO immediately to get the power disconnected. Remain in the cab. If you are forced to leave the cab, do not step down, but jump well clear and avoid touching any part of the vehicle or the ground nearby. It is important that you avoid creating a contact between the vehicle and the ground. Try to land on your feet and move away from the area as quickly as possible. Do not to return to the vehicle again until the DNO has confirmed that power has been turned off. Do not rely on rubber tyres or boots for protection.
Electric shock and first aid
It is essential that you know what to do if someone receives an electric shock. Firstly, disconnect the power source. Do not touch the electrocuted person except with non-conductive items. Resuscitation requires specific training, so you need to ensure that you and your workers, including seasonal workers, have received and practiced the appropriate first-aid training. Display posters describing what to do in the event of an electric shock in suitable locations. Ensure that the DNO telephone number is prominently displayed at first aid stations and in the cabs of all your vehicles.
Plan your excavation work to avoid underground cables. Where this is not possible, develop a plan to minimise risks. Contact your DNO to establish the location of their underground power lines on your farm and map these out so that they can be safely located and, if possible, disconnected, before any excavations take place. Should you need to excavate near cables that have not been laid by your DNO, employ a contractor who can use the appropriate cable detection equipment to help you locate them. If cables are present, always use safe digging techniques, such as digging trial holes using hand tools or vacuum excavators to confirm their position.
When operating tools outdoors or in locations with earthed metalwork, use a reduced voltage from a safety isolating transformer, or ensure that you are connected to an RCD which will cut off power immediately if there is an earth fault. Plugs should be robust and fit for purpose, such as covered for use outdoors or in dusty conditions. Ensure that there are enough sockets in order to reduce the use of extension leads. The condition and wiring of tools should be inspected regularly and repairs should be carried out by a competent person. All appliances should be unplugged before cleaning or adjusting.
The Electricity at Work Regulations 1989 places a legal requirement on you and your employees to ensure that all electrical systems you are responsible for at your place of work are maintained to a safe standard.