Columbus, Neb. – Earlier this month on a cloudless, sunny day, power was suddenly lost in several Nebraska communities. No energy, no lights. The question asked on a sunny day in those communities was what happened to the power? There wasn’t a storm, so what happened?
In this case, a farmer using a boom sprayer made contact with an 115,000-kilovolt transmission line operated by Nebraska Public Power District, causing an outage that affected several hundred NPPD customers and at least two rural public power districts. With planting season on the horizon and more equipment heading into the fields, NPPD is encouraging farm workers to be alert to the potential dangers of working near overhead power lines.
“The farmer did not realize the length of the boom sprayer and made contact with the transmission line,” said NPPD Transmission and Distribution Manager Joel Dagerman. “The operator was pretty startled, but fortunately he was not harmed. There was some damage to the boom sprayer on its contact with the power line.”
NPPD urges farm workers to review their activities and work practices that take place around any power lines and to look up and around to see where power lines may be. Everyone who works on the farm should know the location of power lines and keep farm equipment at least 20 feet away. The minimum 20 foot distance is a 360-degree rule – below, to the side and above lines.
“It may take a little more time, but ensuring proper clearance can save lives and reduce the possibility of creating a power outage that impacts more than just the farm. Some can create an outage in a local community as we had recently,” said Dagerman. “Contact with power lines can result in electrocution, but also affected are homes, businesses and industry.”
What should operators of farm equipment do if they make contact with a power line? First, if a line is struck or downed, contact the local public power provider who has highly-trained linemen that can assist and take a potentially dangerous situation back to normal.
The line should be considered energized and if the individual exits the equipment, they become the path and electrocution can be the result. Even if a power line has landed on the ground, there is still the potential for the area nearby to be energized. Remain inside the vehicle unless there is a fire or imminent risk of fire. In that case, the proper action is to jump – not step – with both feet hitting the ground at the same time. Do not allow any part of your body to touch the equipment and the ground at the same time. Continue to shuffle or hop to safety, keeping both feet together as you leave the area.
Once away from the equipment, never attempt to get back on or even touch the equipment until your local public power provider has cleared the scene. Many electrocutions occur when the operator dismounts and, thinking nothing has happened, tries to get back on the equipment.
To avoid contact with power lines:
- Talk to those working in the area of power lines to make sure everyone is on the same safety page.
- Use a second person as a spotter when working around power lines.
- Do not raise the arms of planters, cultivators or truck beds when moving vehicles.
- Be aware of increased height when loading and transporting larger modern farm machinery.
- Watch for radio antennas that extend from the cab to 15 feet above the ground that could make contact with power lines.
- Be careful not to raise any equipment such as ladders, poles or rods into power lines. Non-metallic materials such as lumber, tree limbs, tires, ropes and hay will conduct electricity depending on dampness and dust and dirt contamination.
- Do not try to clear storm-damage debris and limbs near or touching power lines or near fallen lines.