A sprayer works in a field with power lines© Jonathan Page/RBI

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has urged farmers to report power lines that are below the minimum legal height across farmland.

Power lines over farmland were involved in some 1,000 incidents or strikes each year, said HSE head of agriculture Rick Brunt.

“A thousand strikes is potentially 1,000 deaths,” he said. “We are very, very lucky there are only one or two per year.”

See also: Campaign highlights power line dangers

Depending on the voltage of electricity they carry, the minimum height for power lines ranges from 5.2m to 7.3m above ground level (see ‘Minimum heights above ground level for overhead power lines’, below) – often within reach of farm machinery.

Combine harvester unloading augers can exceed 5.7m and telescopic handlers can exceed 9.5m.

Minimum heights above ground level for overhead power lines

Voltage (kV) Height (m)
400 7.3
275 7
132 6.7
33 5.2
11 5.2
Low 5.2
Source: HSE 

Mr Brunt said lines below the minimum legal height should first be reported to the power companies responsible for them.

But if those companies failed to rectify the situation, farmers should report them to the HSE, he said.

Enforcement

“If they are on your farm and they are below minimum height – and the supply companies aren’t responding to your request – send it my way,” Mr Brunt told farm leaders at an NFU council meeting on Tuesday (10 October).

The HSE was responsible for enforcing the rules, he added.

West Sussex farmer David Exwood, who farms at Itchingfield, near Horsham, said many lines were too low.

“I am hugely frustrated by the dangers,” he told Mr Brunt. “I must have a dozen on my farm that are well under the minimum legal height.”

Mr Exwood said there was no need for additional legislation. But there was a need for existing legislation to be properly enforced.

Lives at risk

Power companies didn’t take the risk posed by low lines seriously enough, he added.

It is utterly ludicrous that we have a standard in the UK power networks that allows machines to touch overhead power lines Will Dickinson, Hertfordshire farmer

“You report them and they don’t take any interest.

“Some of the infrastructure is over 50 years old.

“We are supposed to send people out into field day after day, week after week, and risk their lives because the power lines are too low.”

Hertfordshire farmer Will Dickinson, who farms at Harpenden, said the HSE should be more proactive in enforcing the rules.

“It is utterly ludicrous that we have a standard in the UK power networks that allows machines to touch overhead power lines.”