Self-guided exhibit at FSR to teach on-farm electrical safety

Electricity from power lines near grain bins can arc to a conductor and farm equipment can be that target, putting the farmer, family, friends or farm hands at risk for electrocution.

Ohio State University Extension’s Agricultural Safety and Health Program will have an exhibit at this year’s Farm Science Review explaining the dangers of overhead power lines and what those working on the farm should look for to stay safe.

“There is a misconception that as long as that equipment can clear the power lines then everything is OK,” said Dee Jepsen, OSU Extension state safety specialist. “But if you have, say a 2-foot clearance, that isn’t enough. Electricity can arc to the auger, wagon, combine, whatever equipment you may be operating at the time.”

Between 1990 and 2009, there have been eight fatalities related to electrocutions in Ohio, three of which where grain bin related, according to the OSU Extension Agricultural Safety and Health Program Web site.

The self-guided exhibit will be located in the Safety Education Area on Kottman Street, between Friday Avenue and Land Avenue on the exhibit grounds.

“The biggest issue comes when farmers are renovating an old grain bin facility and bringing it back into commission,” Jepsen said. “What worked in the past may have been good enough, but we are working with bigger equipment and there just may not be enough safe distance between the power lines and the newer equipment.”

Jepsen said that minimum safe distance depends on what amount of voltage the power lines are putting out, and if a farmer doesn’t know, then it’s best to find out. The general recommendation is 18 feet minimum safe distance, which is associated with power lines emitting 500,000 volts or more of electricity.

“Electricity arcs further as voltage increases, so it’s important to determine how much electricity the power lines are generating,” Jepsen said. For power lines of up to 69,000 volts, minimum safe distance is 10 feet; for 115,000 to 138,000 volts, it’s 11 feet; and for 230,000 volts, it’s 13 feet.

Jepsen said the best solution is to bury power lines, although it is a little more costly to do so. Another recommendation is to lock out the electrical control box so that no one else can walk by and accidentally turn on the power.

Electrical lines are just another hazard around a grain bin that farmers need to be more aware of, Jepsen said.

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