Cornish Mutual 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 powerlines which can range from 230 to 400,000 volts and which remain the most common cause of accidents and deaths.
However, poorly maintained electrical installations and equipment can be lethal to those operating it as well as having the potential to cause fires, resulting in significant losses in buildings, equipment and livestock.
Farmer and Cornish Mutual member 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 in South East Cornwall 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’s 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.