Electrical Safety on Queensland Farms

From 2016 to 2019, five people have lost their lives in electrical incidents on Queensland farms. Research also shows that nearly 50 per cent of Queensland hospital admissions for electrical related injuries come from outer regional or remote locations.

The top three electrical safety risks on farms are overhead powerlines, unsafe electrical equipment and a lack of safety switches. These are discussed below with simple and inexpensive tips to improve electrical safety.

Working near overhead powerlines

Working near powerlines is dangerous. Touching them, contacting them with equipment or just straying into the exclusion zone around them can result in a fatal electric shock.

Between 2016 and 2018, three people were electrocuted on farms after contacting overhead powerlines. One incident involved a crop spraying boom being towed behind a tractor, another involved a worker trimming crops from an elevating work platform, and the third involved moving an irrigation pipe stored under a powerline.

Further, in one twelve-month period there were 70 reported incidents where agricultural equipment including tractors, harvesters, slashers, spray rigs and irrigation equipment came into contact with overhead powerlines, with a seasonal peak in incidents when crops such as cane and grain were harvested.

Farm machinery impacting power poles, or their support stays, can often cause the overhead lines to fall and present serious risks.

Sometimes overhead powerlines are difficult to see in the landscape even on a bright sunny day, and more so in low light, rain, cloudy weather, or at dawn or dusk. They can also sag between poles as much four metres below the cross-arms supporting them, and sway in the wind, so what appears to be a safe working distance may later expose you, your family, workers or property to serious risks.

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Safety switches

Have an electrician install safety switches on every circuit in your home and farm. Don’t mistake circuit breakers for safety switches. Circuit breakers are designed to stop electrical cables from being overloaded and causing fires, while safety switches protect people from fatal electric shocks. A safety switch can be identified by its test button.

Remember to test your safety switches using this button every three months to ensure they are working properly. While your safety switch is tripped, check to see if any equipment is still running – this equipment is not protected by your safety switch.

Safety switches can prevent a serious electric shock, but they are not a substitute for proper electrical maintenance and safe practices. Have a licensed electrician periodically check for any electrical issues at your property and test your safety switches.

Unsafe electrical equipment

Queensland law requires electrical equipment to be checked for safety defects prior to use. Make sure you do a visual check of electrical equipment before you use it. Things to look for include:

  • broken enclosures or cracked plastic covers
  • discolouration caused by overheating or moisture
  • water in and around the appliance
  • frayed cords or damaged plugs.

Any of these issues could cause a fire or electric shock. Damaged equipment should not be used, if you find damaged equipment, disconnect it immediately. Either dispose of it or have it repaired by an authorised service agent or a licensed electrician.

Pay extra attention to equipment that has been exposed to the weather or harsh conditions such as water pumps, solar panel installations and electrical tools.

Power leads

  • Always check your extension leads for damage before using them.
  • Throw away any damaged leads or have them repaired by a licensed electrician before use.
  • If working outdoors, use heavy duty leads suitable for outdoor use that are protected by a safety switch. If you are unsure if the power circuit has a safety switch use a portable safety switch marked “complies with AS/NZS 3190 and AS/NZS 3012” and test it before each use.
  • If you are using power tools or high-pressure water hoses, then the leads to these items should be suitable for outdoor use.
  • Extension leads should only be used for temporary jobs and always supplied by a power point that is protected by a safety switch.

Tips to improve electrical safety

To improve electrical safety on your property:

  • move irrigation pipes, machinery and other large items away from overhead powerlines
  • make sure you know where electrical infrastructure is and work safely around it
  • paint power poles (with Energex or Ergon Energy’s permission) and mark pole stays with high visibility or reflective markers
  • check electrical equipment before you use it and dispose of damaged equipment
  • employ a licensed electrician to inspect your farm, and ask them to install safety switches on all circuits.

You can also ask Ergon Energy and Energex for free safety advice about power lines and poles on your farm. Both offer free ‘Look up and live’ advice and products including line markers and property maps showing electrical infrastructure.

More information

Employers and workers should read:

  • Electrical Safety Code of Practice 2010 – Working near overhead and underground electric lines.
  • Electrical Safety Code of Practice 2010 – Electrical Equipment Rural industry.

For more information, visit electricalsafety.qld.gov.au
Further assistance can also be provided by:
Ergon Energy, aergon.com.au , 13 74 66
Energex, energex.com.au , 13 12 53
Dial Before You Dig, 1100.com.au