Over Head Power Lines - Agricultural Risks

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As the agricultural machinery being used, such as combine harvesters, tipping trailers and irrigators becomes increasingly large, the risk of contact or near contact becomes greater. Electricity can ‘arc’ across gaps, which means that workers may still be at risk if their equipment is too close to the OHPLs, even if it is not touching. Not only agricultural equipment and machinery present a danger, jets of water or liquid slurry, coming into contact or near contact with an OHPL can also cause a discharge of electricity and a high risk of fatal or severe shock.

The recent prosecution of a farm management company highlights the issues associated with such accidents. Following the death of a casual farm worker who was electrocuted when the extended grain chute of a combine harvester he was operating touched an 11,000 volt overhead power line, the company was fined £120,000 and ordered to pay costs of £45,000 for breaching health and safety legislation.

The farm management company was responsible for the hiring of casual farm workers, including the worker who was killed, and for managing health and safety on the site. They had failed to inspect, monitor, supervise or audit adequately health and safety management on the farm. In addition they had failed to ensure that the farm manager had received adequate health and safety training. Consequently, risk assessments for working in fields with OHPLs had not been carried out and the farm workers had not been adequately trained on safe working practices.

The worker who was electrocuted had been driving one of the largest and tallest machines on the market and as there was a problem with the grain discharge spout, this had been left extended while cropping the field. The combine's height with the chute extended was 5.7 metres. This was therefore in excess of the legal minimum height for overhead lines in fields, which is 5.2 metres, and the actual height of the lines involved in the accident, which were 5.6 metres. No consideration had been given to these facts.

The HSE guidance provides practical advice on how to avoid danger when working near overhead power lines. Suggested measures that should be implemented include:

- determining the routes and operating voltages of OHPLs running across the farm land or near the boundaries and map them

- know the safe operating distances- ascertain the maximum height and vertical reach of all farm machinery and equipment with all parts raised to their full extent- check the heights against the line heights marked on the OHPL map

- identify any areas of high risk- plan work to avoid high-risk areas- use alternative access points and routes which avoid OHPLs- train all staff to be aware of the risks associated with OHPLs

- ensure contractors are aware of the location of OHPLs before they come onto your land. Give them the clearances. Ascertain whether their machinery and equipment is safe to use near lines

For further information please contact Claire Howard, a Partner in Blake Lapthorn's Personal Injury team on 023 8085 7313 or email her at claire.howard@bllaw.co.uk 

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