Staying safe on your farm – look up and live

A seeder hits a powerline while making a turn. A tip truck contacts powerlines while collecting grain. A tractor runs straight over the top of a Stobie pole. A boom sprayer contacts a powerline while being raised.
These are just some of the incidents regularly occurring on South Australia’s broad acre farms. All of them have the potential to result in a fatality. Yet all of them are avoidable.

“Since the beginning of 2021 we have seen a surge in on-farm incidents with 96 serious incidents recorded to the end of 2023,” said Paul Roberts, Head of Corporate Affairs at SA Power Networks.

“Our crews are regularly being called out to high-risk incidents right across the broad acre cropping areas of the State.

“Whether it is a farmer undertaking seeding or harvesting the crop, a contractor building a new shed, or people working in the grain handling area of the farm, overhead powerlines are a clear hazard and a potentially-fatal risk,” he said.

Powerlines are no small issue on farms. More than 190,000 stobie poles and 35,000km of powerline are present across South Australia’s cropping regions.

Both are an essential part of supplying electricity to communities across the state, but they can also pose a safety hazard needing management on farms.

“Most of the powerlines on farms are 19,000 Volt SWER (Single Wire Earth Return) powerlines – that is a high voltage that is potentially lethal or that, at best, could cause significant long-term injuries.”

Paul said the reality was that incidents on farms could be avoided through appropriate work site and task planning.

“The location of powerlines should be treated as a critical issue.

“When undertaking specific tasks, all on-farm workers, including family members, contractors and anyone lending a helping hand, need to be made aware of the location of powerlines and Stobie poles where they will be working and the potential risks.

“And when building a grain handling site on a farm, don’t build under powerlines.”

To help local farmers in their planning, they can access mapping of South Australia’s electricity distribution infrastructure via the Look Up and Live app and website
“The Look Up and Live app and website are free resources that provide farmers and other people undertaking rural activity with access to mapped information on the location and voltage of powerlines and poles on their properties,” Paul said.

“We recommend checking the location of powerlines at the website when planning work and then confirming with a visual inspection on site before actually commencing work.

“Both steps are important. There may have been some change to the configuration of powerlines on your property and, with equipment getting taller and wider, that means you must review your powerline clearances before undertaking work,” he said.

“Powerlines can be difficult to see, especially in dusty conditions, and they can sag in heat, so confirming their location before you start work, could avoid serious injury or even save a life,” Paul said.

“And if someone else is going to undertake the task, make sure you have a discussion about the various safety hazards they need to be made aware of before they commence the job.”

Paul said in recent times there had been incidents where grain handling equipment and work areas had been located under powerlines.

at is a potential tragedy waiting to happen and we recommend locating areas where you will be handling grain using equipment such as augers well away from powerlines.

“It’s also not uncommon for operators of tip trucks to park under powerlines and raise the tipper, with serious consequences,” Paul said.

“One recent example of this ended up with the truck wheels being blown many metres off the vehicle. That’s reflective of the energy being carried in powerlines and why they pose such a serious risk.”

Paul said the reality was on-farm incidents could be avoided through ensuring farmers and farm employees have an appropriate work site away from powerlines, and undertaking thorough planning before completing any tasks.

Serious on-farm incidents involving powerlines/activity
Source: SA Power Networks

Extra care is suggested when on-farm work involves:

  • Using tall or wide vehicles and machinery
  • Relying on GPS to steer your vehicle
  • Raising the tipper tray of trucks
  • Raising farm equipment such as irrigation pipes overhead
  • Climbing on top of machinery or storage silos
  • Farm workers and contractors who are not familiar with your property and the location of powerlines are undertaking work.
  • Improve deterrence and enforcement.

    What to do if you contact a powerline

    If a vehicle strikes a powerline, unless there is some other emergency, it is best to stay inside the vehicle until help can arrive.

    When a vehicle comes into contact with powerlines you should immediately contact SA Power Networks on 13 13 66 stay in your vehicle until SA Power Networks confirms it is safe to do so.

    Others in the vicinity also should keep well clear of the vehicle until SA Power Networks confirms the line is safe.

    If the vehicle needs to be evacuated, jump clear without retaining contact with the vehicle. Land on both feet and shuffle away until at least 10 metres clear.

    In a power emergency call SA Power Networks on 13 13 66. For an ambulance or police assistance, call 000.

    Article kindly provided by SA Power Networks.

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