September 2021 | Fruit & Vegetable News magazine

Don’t pay the price with your life: focus on electrical safety

In July, a worker on a pineapple farm in Queensland tragically lost their life after a harvester hit overhead power lines. Each year too many farm workers are killed or seriously injured by electrical incidents on rural properties.

Within the Fair Farms Program, we remind employers of their workplace health and safety standards that help make sure tragedies like this don’t happen. We are here to raise awareness and support farms to help prevent the chances of accidents, so that the entire Australian horticulture industry thrives. Here are some tips to consider when working around power lines.

Plant and machinery, irrigation pipes, augers, cranes and excavators all have the potential to contact powerlines and when that happens the result can be deadly. Electricity from powerlines can arc or jump across lines, even if there is no direct contact.

Powerlines can sag between the poles and can be as much as three or four metres below the cross arms supporting them. Sometimes they are difficult to see – on the horizon, in low light or in high winds that force the powerlines to sway some distance.

Workers and equipment must be kept a safe distance from powerlines. Electrical safety laws in each State and Territory set out the minimum safe distances (exclusion zones).

There are practical steps farmers can take to keep workers safe:

  • Arrange for your electricity provider to install visual markers. Install highly visible ground markers and have a safety observer on the ground.
  • Work in the direction away from powerlines not towards them.
  • Avoid working near powerlines if you can. If you can’t, then know the height and prevent entering the exclusion zone. Re-check clearances if you buy new plant and equipment.
  • Report unsafe power poles on or near your property to the electricity distributor. If you own the poles have them periodically checked by a licenced electrical contractor.
  • Don’t locate machinery or equipment under powerlines and always lower machinery near powerlines.
  • Store irrigation pipes well away from powerlines.
  • Train your workers to identify where powerlines are located and induct all workers and visitors.
  • Keep vegetation and crops away from power poles and stay wires.
  • Ensure your emergency procedures are up to date and your workers are familiar with them.

Powerlines may also be located below ground. Before doing any work involving trenching or drilling holes it is necessary to take steps to find out if underground electrical cables are at or near where the work is to be done. The Dial Before You Dig service is available around Australia and can be contacted through their website:

Whether powerlines are above ground or below ground, electrical safety laws require that before commencing work you complete a risk assessment and put in place suitable safety measures that might include the above.

Applying a risk management approach to electrical safety involves:

  • Identifying the risk;
  • Assessing the risk;
  • Decide on what is needed to control the risk;
  • Implement the control measures; and
  • Monitor and review the controls to assess effectiveness.

Taking a little time to ensure the work is done safely could save a lot of heartache and trouble. It could save a life and that life could be yours.

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