When hurry leads to harm

As a farmer, Marsha Salzwedel knows there are times when there’s not enough hours in the day and sometimes corners are cut.

That is when farm accidents involving electricity tend to occur, she said from the National Children’s Centre for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety.

“I would bet you the majority of the injury incidences, when we talk to farmers, they start out with, ‘well you know, I was in a hurry to get it done because it was going to rain, it was getting dark, I had a deadline to meet.’ Whatever the reason for them being in a hurry, it’s almost always that they were in a hurry,” she said.

“They may only ever take that short cut one time, but it only takes one time.”

During a recent webinar hosted by the AgriSafe network, Salzwedel explored how electricity works, what electrical injuries look like and how to protect against them.

Besides electricity, the major grain hazards include entrapment/engulfment, falls, dust, being struck by something and noise exposure.

Overhead power line hazards often get the most media attention because of the devastation they can bring, but other common electrical hazards include bad splices, burned outlets, poor wiring, unlabelled panels, missing knockouts, deterioration and missing plugs.

These hazards can be just as deadly and should never be underestimated, said Salzwedel.

“One of the issues that we sometimes run into when we try to track statistics on farms is that, especially if it’s a electrical jolt, that unless they perceive that there’s actual physical damage done, a lot of times the farmer won’t go to the doctor,” she said.

“They will feel OK and they will stand up and think that they’re just fine, and all of a sudden a few hours later they will collapse and some have even died from cardiac arrest.

“Even though you seem fine in the beginning after you receive these electrical jolts, you still should be checked out by medical personal because of that issue.”

The severity of electrical injury depends on the amount of electricity, the path it travels and duration of exposure.

However, Salzwedel said it’s important to know that the female body cannot handle as much electrical current as men.

“Women feel these effects sooner than men. Their threshold is about two thirds that of what men is,” she said. “By the time you get to a very low threshold of 10 milliamperes, you can’t let go anymore once.”

She said a simple 60 watt light bulb will draw about half an amp, which is about 500 miliamperes and enough to cause death.

“So just some of the simple tools that we work with on a daily basis can actually be deadly if they short out,” she said.

Salzwedel’s number one piece of advice for avoiding the hazards of on-farm electricity is to be extremely proactive and have an electrician review the farm, make recommendations and then get electrical problems fixed.

“Because of the issues that we typically see with the wiring — the bad splicing, the missing plugs on the electrical boxes — they will often times identify where those issues are for you,” she said.

The second key recommendation is to always be aware of your surroundings and keep other people out of that work zone.

“Know where all of the pieces of your equipment are at every single time so you’re not raising equipment up into those overhead power lines.”

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