Regional, rural and remote communities form the backbone of NSW’s agricultural industry and Essential Energy works closely with this sector to ensure safety is paramount across its electricity distribution network.
The biggest electrical safety risk for the agribusiness sector is machinery contact with powerlines and power poles. For this reason, Essential Energy urges farmers to take steps to protect their safety and the safety of others when working near these assets.
Essential Energy’s Head of Health, Safety and Environment, Christine Withycombe, described public safety as a shared responsibility, particularly for those working on the land.
“Essential Energy has a network that spans 95 per cent of NSW and serves 1,500 rural, regional and remote communities, so a lot of our work is centred around electrical safety within the agricultural industry,” Christine said. “Our campaigns focus on those working on farms and reinforce the need for farmers to remain alert to electrical hazards and aware of the location of our electrical infrastructure.”
Essential Energy’s online electrical safety information includes fact sheets on agribusiness and harvest
safety, free safety stickers, and a practical instructional electrical safety video. These are available at: essentialenergy.com.au/safety.
“We have free maps of Essential Energy’s overhead electricity network available via an online form at essentialenergy.com.au/overhead and land owners can also enquire about having overhead powerline markers installed for a small cost,” Christine added.
As harvest activities heighten across NSW and GPS tracking and autosteer technology is more heavily relied upon, the risk of farm machinery contacting powerlines or power poles increases.
Essential Energy’s ‘LAND’ campaign offers important safety advice for those working near the overhead electricity network during their daily farming activities and seasonal harvests.
“The key safety messages of our LAND campaign are important and easy to remember to apply to everyday agricultural tasks,” Christine said.
- Look up and Live – mark overhead powerlines at ground level
- Always be Aware – of the electricity network location and check for changes in condition before starting work
- Need to Know – the height of farm machinery and equipment, both when raised and lowered
- Don’t Disembark – if your vehicle comes into contact with the overhead network.
“If your machinery contacts overhead powerlines, call Essential Energy immediately on 13 20 80,” Christine said. “Remain calm and stay in the vehicle until help arrives and the power has been turned off and all powerlines removed.”
Remember that electricity can arc or ‘jump’ across open spaces, so bystanders should remain at least eight metres away and treat powerlines as live.
“If an emergency exit is necessary, jump well clear of the vehicle, land with your feet together, and don’t touch the vehicle, fall forward or backward, or allow your feet to step apart,” Christine added. “Shuffle with your feet together until you are at least eight metres clear of the vehicle, powerlines or anything else in contact with them.”
Agricultural workers are encouraged to identify potential electrical hazards on a property before starting work and be mindful that changes in weather conditions can affect the electricity network. This includes reduced visibility of powerlines at dawn or dusk and strong winds and extreme heat causing lines to sway and sag.
“To reduce the risk of electrical incidents, complete a hazard assessment for each work site, including paddocks, sidings, travel routes and relevant machinery or equipment,” Christine said. “Ensure safety inductions are carried out for all workers and a safety observer is used onsite to reduce the electrical risks.”
Essential Energy appreciates that agricultural workers face ever-increasing time pressures and that drought conditions are taking their toll.
“For this reason, it’s important to remember it only takes a small lapse in concentration for an incident to occur,” Christine said.
“Reduce the likelihood of a serious accident by installing visual markers at ground level in any areas where electrical hazards are identified.”
Electrical accidents pose a serious safety risk for workers and can result in downtime, potential loss of income for the landholder, and inconvenient power outages for the community.
“Make safety a priority every day so all workers can return home safely to their family and loved ones,” Christine added.
To achieve safe work habits:
- Ensure minimum approach distances are maintained – that is, the amount of space between machinery (and anything held by a person) and the powerlines. This will prevent electricity arcing to the vehicle operator or the machinery.
- Know the height and reach of machinery – in both stowed and working positions. Machinery higher than 4.6 metres is at greater risk of contact with powerlines and therefore should be closely monitored.
- Identify safe travel paths – to reduce the possibility of contact with powerlines and always lower machinery to the transport position when relocating equipment.
Some key risk areas for machinery contact with powerlines, poles and guy wires include exhaust, aerial and pulling implements on tractors, wings fold at transport mode and width for implements, unloading chutes on harvesters, and the arm and knuckle bucket on excavators and backhoes.
“When it comes to the potential dangers of working around powerlines and other network infrastructure, Essential Energy collaborates with NSW Farmers and other peak agricultural bodies to get the message out to agricultural communities around electrical safety,” Christine said.
“We participate at major field days, use radio ads, email and web campaigns, and provide in-cab stickers for agricultural machinery. However, ultimately at the end of the day, the most effective way to remain safe on the farm is to have controls in place for identifying overhead and underground electrical assets prior to working near the network.”
Essential Energy encourages agricultural workers to familiarise themselves with the Essential Energy “Work near overhead powerlines” fact sheet available for download at: essentialenergy.com.au/agribusiness. If you plan to conduct excavation works on your farm or property, contact the Dial Before You Dig referral service at: www.1100.com.au, to identify the location of underground utilities.
To find out more about initiatives specific to agribusiness and safety around electricity on farms, visit essentialenergy.com.au/agribusiness. To report a network incident, contact Essential Energy immediately on 13 20 80 or call Triple Zero (000) if the situation is life-threatening.