1,140 near-miss incidents with overhead power lines in last five years

Electricity industry calls for safer working on farms, as over 1,000 overhead power lines incidents are reported over five years
Electricity industry calls for safer working on farms, as over 1,000 overhead power lines incidents are reported over five years

One person dies per year in the agricultural industry when working too close to overhead power lines, according to a new campaign which aims to highlight its dangers.

In addition, there were also 1,140 near-miss incidents involving machinery and equipment contacting overhead electric power lines where serious injury or death was a possibility in the last five years.

Figures also show there were 39 contact incidents in just four weeks during the 2017 harvest period.

Each of these were a potential for the vehicle operator or persons standing nearby suffering a fatal electric shock. That’s a risk during harvest of more than one fatality per day.

To highlight the dangers of overhead powerlines, the UK’s electricity network operators have joined forces to ensure those working in the agricultural industry understand the dangers of working near them, in a bid to reduce the number of incidents that take place each year.

Despite potentially fatal consequences, over 85% of people never worry about getting too close to an overhead power line, according to the latest research from Energy Networks Association (ENA).

One death every year

Data from the Health & Safety Executive reveals that in the last five years there were five deaths.

On average, one farm worker dies each year as a result of contact with an overhead power line. There have been five such fatalities in the last five years.

The risk to farm workers is not only during harvest but all year round. Annually, approximately 225 reported incidents occur where farm vehicles and machinery make contact with overhead lines – typically these incidents involve equipment such as tipping trailers, lorry mounted cranes, combine harvesters and telehandlers.

Not only does each incident have the potential to kill or seriously injure those workers involved, there are also financial costs in terms of damaged and destroyed equipment and lost time.

Look Out Look Up!

The electricity network operators are today launching a new campaign – Look Out Look Up! – in response to the scale of incidents involving overhead power lines in farms and fields.

The campaign is encouraging people to plan ahead to avoid contact with overhead power lines and to know what to do if contact is made.

A new film has also been created to highlight the potential risks.

Fatal incidents involving farm workers in 2016/17 include a 36-year-old who was killed when a trailer he was tipping hit an overhead power line, and an 18-year-old who was electrocuted when he stepped out of his tractor cab after his tipping trailer came into contact with an overhead line.

A 28-year-old died when a vehicle mounted crane he was using came into contact with an overheard line.

'Dangerous occupation'

Ian Davey, a Cornish farmer who had a near fatal incident when a snap decision during combining had life-changing consequences, commented: “Farming can be a dangerous occupation, and there is so much to do that we rush – but that is when accidents happen.

“The trailer I was in had touched a power line and, as I stepped out of the tractor cab holding the metal door, 11,000 volts shot through my body.

“I was literally stuck to the spot. The power surge dislocated my shoulder and shattered my arm. Doctors told me that it looked as though somebody had smashed the bone with a sledgehammer.

“It took almost leaving behind my two children and wife to mean I’m now careful and cautious on the farm, always thinking twice before doing anything.

“Things could have been different for me had I known the advice within Look Out Look Up!. If the campaign helps even one farmer avoid a potentially fatal contact with an overhead powerline, then it is absolutely worth it.”

Power line advice

Risk assess – know where overhead power lines are and mark them on a map. Find out the height and reach of your equipment and how this compares to the maximum working height under overhead power lines. Share this information with workers and contractors.

Control measures – don’t work near an overhead power line if you don’t have to. Speak to your electricity network operator for advice. Select suitable machinery and equipment and use it safely.

Know what’s safe, and what isn’t – certain work should be avoided within 10 metres of overhead power lines, such as stacking bales and potato boxes, operating telehandlers and moving irrigation pipes. It is crucial that farmers, farm workers and contractors understand that when overhead power lines are damaged or fall to the ground, they should stay well away and contact their local electricity network operator by telephoning 105.

Know what to do - if you come into contact with an overhead power line. If contact is made when you’re in a vehicle, stay in the cab and try to drive clear. If it is not safe to stay in the vehicle, jump clear of the machine, move away and don’t touch it once on the ground.

Call 105 – if an incident occurs, contact your network operator by calling the national 24 hour emergency number 105. According to the ENA, over four in five people do not know the number to call in case of an abnormality in electricity supply in their home or workplace.