Electrical safety on the farm

The most common electrical safety risks on Queensland farms are making contact with overhead powerlines, unsafe electrical equipment and not having safety switches installed.

Overhead powerlines

Working near powerlines can be fatal—touching them or straying into the exclusion zone around them can result in a serious electric shock. Sometimes overhead powerlines
are difficult to see, even on a bright sunny day and more so in low light, rain, cloudy weather or at dawn or dusk.

If you are working near overhead powerlines you must manage the risks. First try to eliminate the risk by arranging for the electricity to be switched off during work periods,
changing the work activities or re-routing powerlines away from high risk areas. If that’s not possible then try the following:

  • Substitute overhead powerlines for underground lines. This introduces a new risk, so talk to Energex, Ergon or Essential Energy to locate and mark the position of underground electricity cables and safe exclusion zones before you start digging. You can also contact Dial Before You Dig (www.1100.com.au) for advice.
  • Isolate the lines from machinery by raising or insulating them.
  • Use engineering controls such as geofencing (similar to those used for livestock) or electrical detection and alarm systems.
  • Use administrative controls if none of the above are possible. These include safety procedures, training, safety observers, warning signs and visual indicators.

Safe use of portable generators

Incorrect use of portable generators can cause serious injury and can damage your generator.

When powering electrical equipment with a portable generator, make sure you:

  • Only use a generator that complies with Australian Standards and read the manufacturer’s instructions before use.
  • Keep the generator in a safe and ventilated place so fumes can escape
  • Use a good quality extension lead from the generator directly to the electrical equipment you want to use. Always check the extension lead is not damaged (cuts or kinks in the lead and the lead is not pulled out from the plug or socket ends) and always fully uncoil the lead before use.
  • Do not overload your generator. Different types of electrical equipment have different power needs – make sure the electrical equipment is safe to be powered by your generator before you connect it.
    For example, don’t use electrical equipment rated at 2400W with a generator rated at only 2000W as this will overload and damage your generator.
  • Do not connect your generator directly to your home’s fixed wiring unless a licensed electrician has installed a changeover switch.

Check your electrical equipment before use

Electrical equipment can be dangerous if it’s not being used as designed, or if it’s damaged.

Always inspect and check electrical equipment for damage before you use it. Signs to look out for are:

  • cracked, broken or warped casings.
  • damaged safety guards.
  • colour changes from overheating or moisture.
  • Lead fraying, abrasions and cuts.

If you suspect your electrical equipment is broken or faulty, don’t use it. Get it repaired by a licensed electrician or dispose of it after cutting off the leads and plugs.

Before carrying out any maintenance, always turn off and unplug the equipment and follow manufacturer’s instructions.

Safety switches

Safety switches protect you, your family and anyone on your property from electric shock. Get them installed on all circuits including workshops, lights, air-conditioners, fridges, ovens, pools and hot water systems.

Safety switches work by continuously monitoring the flow of electricity. They turn off the power instantly when they detect an unsafe situation, saving you in a split second. This can happen if there is a faulty power point or electrical equipment or you accidentally hit a live cable while drilling into a wall.

Safety switches can fail or get stuck, so it is important to test yours are working correctly by pressing the ‘Test’ or ‘T’ button every three months. Correctly working safety
switches will flick to the ‘off’ position and cut the power to that circuit. If any safety switch appears to be faulty or there was electrical equipment still with power when the
safety switch was off, call a licensed electrician to check it out.

Safety tip

While a safety switch may save your life, it doesn’t always prevent electric shocks or secondary injuries. For example, if you are standing on a ladder, or in a roof space, your body’s reaction to the small shock received before a safety switch cuts off the power may throw you off the ladder or cause you to fall through a ceiling.

Remember – switch off all power before entering a ceiling space and never do your own electrical work.

For more electrical safety information visit electricalsafety.qld.gov.au.

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