Deadly power line arcing closer than you think

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Since 2010, there have been five farm fatalities in Alberta as a result of farmers moving equipment into energized power lines. Most farm power line incidents occur during the busy spring seeding and fall harvest seasons. As such, Alberta’s Joint Utility Safety Team (JUST) wants to remind farmers to exercise extra caution during the hectic spring seeding season.

Allan Kurtz, a third-generation farmer, has an important message for other farmers following his on-the-job incident.

“Before my accident, I was always careful around electricity — but I didn’t know power could jump. My accident was a wake-up call,” says Kurtz, who lost both legs as a result of his incident.

In preparing to move a grain bin, Kurtz believed he was taking the right precautions by measuring what he thought was a safe distance between the bin and an overhead power line before proceeding. However, once on top of the bin, a blinding flash of electricity arced from the line to Kurtz’s metal tape measure, sending 14,000 volts of electricity coursing through his body.

Farming in Alberta is exempt from Occupational Health & Safety legislation, so farmers are less likely to have taken power line safety training than workers in other industries. Also, given that at certain times of the year farmers are faced with many competing priorities around the farm and home, power line safety may not be top of mind.

Equipment size doubled

Kurtz believes many farmers simply don’t understand all the risks, just as he didn’t. For example, the size of farm equipment such as seeders and sprayers has doubled since the 1950s, while the height of power lines has remained the same. Because of the increased size of farm equipment, farmers should consider both the width and the height of equipment during field use and when moving or transporting equipment. They should also be aware that some lines can be as low as 3.7 metres, and severe weather can cause power lines to sag even lower.

A number of safety precautions can help farmers avoid contact with a power line. “PLAN AHEAD” and “Always ask yourself, WHERE’S THE LINE?” are the guiding principles. This includes having your local electrical utility determine the height of equipment and all power lines on a farm, field and travel routes, so there is no guesswork involved.

Equipment should always be lowered prior to moving it, and when folding or unfolding wings or extensions, always allow seven metres of clearance between equipment and power lines. Transporting equipment 4.15 metres or higher down any public road or highway requires a permit from Alberta Infrastructure and Transportation. If equipment or load is 5.3 metres or higher, your local electrical utility must be contacted at least seven days in advance. For more information contact: (403) 514-2995.

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