Farmers urged to look out and look up

Farmers are being urged to be safe when it comes to electricity, following a surge in the number of agricultural accidents involving overhead lines.

Western Power Distribution (WPD) – the country’s largest electricity network operator – is warning that accidents involving electricity are endangering life and costing farmers thousands of pounds a year.

Every year, WPD responds to hundreds of incidents in which farm workers and/ or vehicles have come into contact with electricity, usually overhead lines.

The latest figures show that at least one agricultural accident involving overhead lines is reported every day – up by more than 100 a year, from 263 in 2013 to 378 in 2018.

In the last five years, there have been more than 1,140 near misses involving electricity on farmland.

Eddie Cochrane, WPD Safety Advisor, said: “All of these accidents are avoidable. By far, the largest number of accidents involving farm workers is caused by machines coming into contact with overhead lines, often leading to injury and even death.

“But what many farmers may not realise is that, as well as the obvious safety implications, there are almost certainly going to be financial consequences. The cost of repairing damage to equipment such as poles and pylons is passed on to the farmer and, in some cases, can run into tens or even hundreds of thousands of pounds.”

Most accidents involve farm vehicles fitted with Sat Nav or other automated steering systems, which do not take into account poles, pylons and overhead lines nearby.

Eddie added: “Thanks to data analytics, GPS and remote sensing, most tractors can now map a field, drive themselves and precisely calibrate their movements to minimise wasted fuel, fertiliser or seed. But, although automation works well in many ways, drivers still need to be diligent in the cab and not switch off.

“This campaign is all about working together. We want to give farmers the information and advice they need to be aware of the dangers and do their jobs safely so that we, in turn, can operate the network safely.”

Additional risks are posed by objects, such as straw bales or even new buildings, being placed too close to overhead lines.

In an electricity emergency, farm workers should call 105, the national emergency number. If contact is made with a power line, they are advised to stay in the cab and try to drive clear. If that is not possible, the driver should stay in the cab and contact 105, only leaving the machine in an emergency. When leaving the vehicle, they should take care not to hold the machine and touch the ground at the same time; they should take leaping strides or ‘bunny hop’ away so that one foot is off the floor at all times.

Top tips for electricity safety outdoors:

  • Never store materials, such as straw bales, under or close to overhead powerlines, as this increases the risk of contact with overhead lines;
  • Know the maximum height and reach of any vehicles you are operating;
  • You cannot see electricity – the area around a fallen line, including the soil, equipment and other objects, could be live – so stay away.

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