Here in the UK, the agricultural industry is worth an estimated £108 billion of GVA to the nation’s economy and has generated 3.7 million jobs. It is a highly valuable asset to the UK and helps us to generate our own foods as well as strengthening international trade too. Alongside all these benefits, the agricultural industry is also notoriously dangerous with a number of unique hazards presenting themselves within its businesses. Electricity plays a key role in the day-to-day running of farms, allowing them to run smoothly and create the right levels of produce needed to keep these companies afloat. But with the high demands for electricity comes a high risk of injury too. In this guide, we’ll cover electrical safety for agricultural businesses with everything you need to know when planning a new device installation or rewire.
Why Is Electricity Vital to Farmers?
As one of the most versatile power sources on the planet, electricity has become integral to farms across the country. Farms have moved on from simply being family ways of life to businesses and many have become essential for large-scale corporate supply chains such as those providing fruits, vegetables and meats to the major supermarkets. There are many ways in which those within this sector make use of and rely on electricity. It is used to:
- Run machinery and equipment for farming
- Heat livestock stables
- Heat greenhouses for crops
- Running electric motors for pumping water
- Running motors for use in the dairy industry
- Powering cold storage units
- Provide lighting in and around the farm
- Produce fertilizers and chemicals used on the farm
In fact, each stage of the farming process uses electricity due to the need for certain equipment and machinery. In these environments where large-scale machinery, heavy loads and livestock are prominent, the risks to human life are significant. This is why we always recommend working with a specialist electrician company when installing and maintaining agricultural systems to make sure you have experts on hand to deal with these unique environments.
What Are the Main Electrical Risks/hazards?
Farms are unique places where you have many different potential hazards. Large quantities of water make installing traditional electrical works more challenging. Chemicals for fertilizer or contaminants from animals can present a cross-contamination hazard. Livestock increase the risk of damage caused by trampling or biting and the demands for high levels of electricity when working long hours harvesting mean that standard methods won’t fit the bill. Many of the key risks and hazards can be linked to poor maintenance or lack of understanding about the local area.
In working farm environments, some of the most common risks associated with electrics are:
- Contact with overhead power lines
- Poorly maintained machinery
- Poor electrical installations
Overhead Power Lines
Machinery used in the agricultural industry continues to get more advanced and technologically smart. However, in many cases, this goes hand in hand with becoming larger and able to take on larger jobs in a shorter period of time. If machinery comes into contact with these cables, it can cause a flashover – a high voltage electrical short circuit that could cause death. This could include combining harvesters, sprayer booms, tipper vehicles and irrigation pipes. Preventing accidents here comes down to appropriate planning, controlling access and having a plan in place for what to do if contact is made.
In some instances, the owner of an overhead power line can organise for them to be moved to clear a pathway for farm vehicles. Where this isn’t possible, vehicles should be diverted around another route and barriers should be considered to ensure traffic follows a safe clearance route or machines should be used that can safely move below overhead power lines.
Poorly Maintained Hand Equipment
Those working in farms rely heavily on hand equipment such as hand sickles, backhoes and seed drills. At all times, it is important that these devices are properly maintained and cared for – especially if they are reliant on electricity to run. Cables and plugs should be checked periodically and replaced if they become broken, frayed or otherwise damaged. A professional electrician will be able to assist with this, ensuring your tools remain safe to use at all times. Damaged power cords aren’t just an inconvenience. They can lead to electric shocks or, in some situations, have the potential to cause a fire – something that can be particularly devastating within the agricultural industry.
Poor Electrical Installations
An agricultural electrical installation needs to be designed and fitted by a specialist, professional and competent electrician. As we’ve mentioned above, these are unique environments that need a tailored system that can withstand these specific challenges. Special considerations need to be made, such as:
- Appropriately reinforced and protected power cables
- Easily identifiable switches near fixed machinery
- Enough sockets to prevent overloading
- Correct fuses and circuit breakers
- Outdoor socket outlets that can withstand high moisture, chemicals and contaminant exposure
- Wiring in conduits to prevent rodent damage
- A backup repair system to quickly replace cables and repair faults
- Periodic checks and repairs by a qualified electrician
The Electricity at Work Regulation 1989
Here in the UK, the use of electricity at work is covered by the above regulation. It sets out the responsibility of duty holders to ensure good electrical safety in line with current UK law. It is relevant to all working premises, as well as those in the agricultural industry and covers everything from the insulation of conductors and earthing through to the capability of electrical equipment and the means for protecting from excess current. More information on these regulations is available on the HSE’s website here.
At MJH Electricals, we provide a highly experienced and family-run electrician service with a key specialism in agricultural environments. As such, we are here to provide guidance, support and electrical services to those in the agricultural industry. For more information or to speak to one of our team, please do get in contact with us here today.