Harvest safety warning on overhead power lines

Farmers and contractors are being encouraged to carry out risk assessments on overhead power lines on land ahead of starting harvest work.

Every year in the UK, on average one farmer dies through electrocution from contact with machinery and overhead cables.

“It’s a life and death scenario. Harvest pressure is no excuse for not doing a risk assessment and doing things by the book,” said Matt Culley, the NFU’s national crops board chairman.

See also: How to work safely near overhead power lines on farmland

“If a student you employ drives a combine into a telegraph post or pylon and dies, there is both the human and financial cost. If you do not carry out a risk assessment, will you be insured for the damage?”

Ahead of harvest, Mr Culley said farmers and landowners should undertake a full safety briefing with staff and contractors.

Risk avoidance measures include:

  • Checking the height of power lines (which can sag over time) in relation to machinery
  • Knowing your equipment is key: hillside-type combines have longer augers and spouts
  • Ensuring combine cabs are kitted out with emergency contact numbers, including the distribution network operator (DNO), and fire extinguishers
  • Harvest crop areas around telegraph polls/pylons during the day (rather than at night) when visibility is worse
  • Consider tiredness as a factor – you are more likely to make mistakes when tired and working in a field.
  • Work with contractors to plan routes to farm fields they have never been to. Kit is bigger, why not recce a route in advance for power lines?

Mr Culley, who is a farmer and contractor in North Hampshire, farming some 720ha, including the 170ha family farm, said risk assessments for power lines should ideally start before crops are drilled.

“If you have got power lines running across the field, try to drill crops ‘with’ the lines, so that when harvest comes you are cutting away from, rather than underneath them.”

He also recommends building a good relationship with local electricity companies, which could include a site visit around the farm to identify possible hazards.

Stay in cab

If workers do come into contact with an overhead power line, they should remain in the cab and call the DNO immediately.

If this is not possible – for example, you need to leave the vehicle to escape fire – jump clear, but do not dismount by climbing down the steps.

Care must also be taken with delivery lorries visiting farms as drivers may not know the location of power lines, Mr Culley said.