Extension Ag Update
November/December 2003
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Power Lines Don't Mix with Augers & Grain Bins

Bob Aherin, Prof., Dept. Ag and Biol Eng, University of Illinois, 217-333-9417, raherin@uiuc.edu

With harvest season getting underway, farmers are urged to take note of electrical lines when moving equipment like portable grain augers, oversized wagons and large combines, and to use a qualified electrician for electrical system repairs. "Equipment contacting overhead power lines is the leading cause of farm electrocution accidents in the Midwest," said Bob Aherin, University of Illinois Agricultural Safety Specialist. "Moving portable grain augers poses the greatest risk because those who are the ground moving the equipment would provide a direct path for electricity if there’s a contact with overhead wires."  "Always lower grain augers before moving them, even if it’s only a few feet. Variables like wind, uneven ground, shifting weight or other conditions can combine to create an unexpected result," Aherin said.

Farm workers also are advised not to use metal poles when breaking up bridged grain inside and around bins and to use qualified electricians for work on drying equipment and other farm electrical systems.

It’s also important for operators of farm equipment or vehicles to know what to do if the vehicle comes in contact with a power line. It’s almost always best to stay in the cab, call for help and wait until the electric utility arrives to make sure power to the line is cut off.   "If the power line is energized and you step outside, your body becomes the path and electrocution is the result," Aherin said. "Even if a power line has landed on the ground, there is still the potential for the area nearby to be energized. Stay inside the vehicle unless there’s fire or imminent risk of fire."

In that case, the proper action is to jump – not step – with both feet hitting the ground at the same time. Jump clear, without touching the vehicle and ground at the same time and continue to shuffle or hop to safety keeping both feet together as you leave the area.  "Like the ripples in a pond or lake, the voltage diminishes the farther out it is from the source," Aherin said. "Stepping from one voltage level to another allows the body to become a path for that electricity. A large difference in voltage between both feet could kill you.

"Be sure that at no time you or anyone touches the equipment and the ground at the same time. Never should the operator simply step out of the vehicle—the person must jump clear."

For more information on keeping you and your family safe, go to the University of Illinois Agricultural Safety and Health website http://www.age.uiuc.edu/agsafety/index.html