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In observance of National Electric Safety Month

Cotton picker (left) and Forage Harvester (right). Source: John Deere

Equipment operators urged to look up for overhead power lines

Story of tragic farm accident provides valuable safety lessons A

n Illinois farmer, Jim Flach, was operating a crop sprayer in a neighbor’s fi eld when one of its arms contacted an overhead power line. In climbing down from the cab, Flach was severely burned when he jumped down into the fi eld (creating an electrical path to ground) and eventually died from his injuries.

Thousands of accidents like this happen every year when large equipment unexpectedly touches overhead power lines. Folks on the ground who touch or even approach energized equipment can also be killed.

Jim Flach’s family is working with Safe Electric- ity’s “Teach Learn Care” (TLC) campaign, sharing the story of their tragic loss in hopes of preventing future accidents. A video of their story can be seen at

More than 400 electrical fatalities occur every year, and electrocutions on farms are the fourth highest of any job classifi cation, according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). Most of the electrical deaths investigated in a NIOSH survey could have been prevented.

“You need to double check, triple check, to see what’s above you,” cautions Flach’s widow, Mari- lyn. Son Brett adds, “Be conscious of your sur- roundings. You need to keep your eyes open and beware of overhead lines.”

Safe Electricity urges everyone to keep at least 10 feet away from overhead power lines when oper-


ating large equipment, and notes that new stan- dards for some construction equipment require a 20-foot clearance.

“We advise using a spotter—someone with a broader view—when working with extensions or tall loads around power lines,” recommends pro- gram executive director Molly Hall. In addition to avoiding power-line accidents, Safe Electricity seeks to educate folks on how to survive if equipment does make contact with lines. Agricultural machinery has increased substan- tially in size in recent years and can come dan- gerously close to overhead lines when leaving and entering fi elds. Combines and grain wagons with extended augers can reach well into the 10-foot radius around a power line. Farm vehicles with wireless communication system antennas can also make contact and energize the vehicle with deadly current. On farmsteads, grain augers often tower over power lines when extended to reach the top of grain bins. Safe Electricity urges farmers to note the loca- tion of overhead power lines and make sure all farm workers know to stay clear of them—as well as what to do if equipment does become tangled with a line.

“The best action is to stay on the equipment and warn others to stay away until the local electric utility arrives to ensure the line is de-energized,” says Bob Aherin, University of Illinois Agriculture Safety Specialist. “Unless you have that assurance,

don’t get off except if there’s fi re, which happens only rarely.”

In the event of fi re, an operator should jump clear from the equipment, without touching the equipment and ground at the same time. Land with feet together, and hop away to avoid deadly current fl ow.

One of the more frequent mishaps reported by NIOSH involves electrocutions and electrical burns suffered by individuals around truck beds raised high enough to contact overhead lines. Trucks must be able to unload their contents; and when raised, the top front of the bed can easily reach overhead power lines.

“Again, we encourage farmers and all operators of large equipment to use a spotter when neces- sary, take steps to keep equipment away from power lines, and make sure everyone knows how to survive if there’s an accident,” Hall concludes. To learn more about electrical safety and to see the Flach video, visit and search for Flach video. OL

Story provided by the Energy Education Council and Safe Electricity is the safety outreach program of the Energ y Education Council, a non-profi t organization with more than 400 electric cooperative members and many others who share the mission of educating the public about electrical safety and energ y effi ciency.

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