Farmers warned of silent but deadly risk 

SA Power Networks has reminded farmers planning to take advantage of season-opening rains of the deadly threat posed by power lines on their properties.

Manager stakeholder relations Paul Roberts said the recent deaths of two farmers in Queensland are a tragic reminder of the real danger posed by power lines on farms.

A range of power lines cross South Australian farms, including transmission lines over 132,000V and mounted on steel-framed towers, and sub-transmission lines at 66,000V and 33,000V, which are strung between taller Stobie poles and link SA Power Networks’ substations.

In addition, there are Single Wire Earth Return (SWER) lines, which carry 19,000V and constitute about 30 per cent of the SA electricity distribution network.

Mr Roberts said SWER lines are difficult to see as they are thin, single lines strung tightly between poles that can be hundreds of metres apart.

“We often respond to outages that have been caused by activity on farms during intense work periods such as planting or harvesting,” Mr Roberts said.

“It is fortunate, and a matter of luck, that we have not had any recent deaths in South Australia. We have, however, had some serious injuries and several very lucky escapes.

“Incidents occur in all types of situations from people operating tip trucks, augers, headers, excavators, elevating work platforms, scissor lifts and spray booms, to assembling of irrigation pipes and even scaffolding. A new issue that has emerged in recent years is the use of GPS for guiding ever-larger farm machinery.”

Mr Roberts said the two fatalities in Queensland involved boom sprays contacting power lines and illustrated the threat posed by operating tall or wide machinery around power lines. But this hazard can be reduced through proper risk assessment.

“Farm workers should always carry out a safety check before starting a task,” he said.

“Will the work happen near overhead electricity power lines or require movement of tall or wide equipment under or around lines? Is there an alternative? If not, what measures need to be put in place to ensure the work can be done safely?

“While you may have checked the location of lines a year ago, things may have changed, so it’s important to re-familiarise yourself with the location of electricity infrastructure and the heights of lines where you will be moving equipment or working.

“Most importantly, others working on the property need to be reminded of the location of power lines and that, in extreme heat or windy conditions, power lines may sag or sway, so you need to stay on your toes to ensure you maintain safe clearances while working.”