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Electrical safety in the agriculture industry

Featuring Gavin Thompson from the Electrical Safety Office

Shane Webcke: G'day. I'm Shane Webcke. I'm an ambassador for Queensland Workplace Health and Safety and I'm with Gavin Thompson from the Office of Electrical Safety. Now Gavin, tell us why overhead powerlines are so dangerous.

Gavin Thompson: They're so dangerous because the voltages are so great and people just don't see them - and particularly in the rural environment, agricultural environment. The farming operations come into close contact with them and people just can't see the power lines.

Machinery. People hitting them with their machinery. Harvesting and cultivating crops around power lines and power poles and they're coming in close contact with the powerlines.

Shane Webcke: Well let's get a fair dinkum. What does it look like when someone hits one of these things? What does it do to you?

Gavin Thompson: It's not pretty. The higher voltage obviously has potential to go through your body and it's lethal. It can kill you and it can injure you if you're lucky enough to survive it can kill. It is very lethal and it's very important to stay outside the exclusions zones.

Shane Webcke: Which leads me to my next questions. What typically happens? What is a typical accident that you sadly have to investigate when things do go wrong? What do people do wrong? What typically do they do?

Gavin Thompson: Well what they don't do wrong, is they don't plan and they don't identify where the powerlines are in the first place. They don't know how high their equipment is or how high their machinery can go. The reach of their machinery and how high the powerlines are and plan their work around the powerlines. That's the biggest thing they don't do. They don't plan.

Shane Webcke: Ok. Let's surmise that someone makes a mistake and they know they've hit a powerline. What do they do?

Gavin Thompson: What they do? The best thing they can do is stay put where they are. Stay in the cab with their machinery, in a truck, in an excavator. Stay in that cab and call 000 if they can or call for help. That is the safest place for them is in that cab.

Shane Webcke: Because, and tell me if I'm wrong. If that machine is live and you go to step off, potentially you are going to become the earth.

Gavin Thompson: That's exactly right. So that that's the best thing you can do. The only time where you could not stay in the cab is obviously if there is another risk. So if there's a fire in the cab or there's smoke in the cab. So the best thing to do in that instance and it's as a last resort, and that is to jump well clear of the machinery. And keep your feet close together. So you need to keep your feet close together and jump away or shuffle away. Because there is dangerous voltages out there form the powerlines. There could be dangerous powerlines on the ground so you don't know where they are and that's the safest way to exit the vehicle.

Shane Webcke: Are we getting better or worse at this?

Gavin Thompson: We get incidents all the time. So it's still happening. And again I think people just don't see them and realise they are there. And they don't realise what they're doing in their work practices is going to impact on the powerlines. So they don't understand that.

Shane Webcke: Do you give someone one word of advice or one piece or advice in terms of the average farmer with a property with power poles crossing it.

Gavin Thompson: I'd say find out where they are and just stay well clear. That's the only advice I give. Keep everything well away from the powerlines. All your operations, your machinery sheds, where you load your cattle, where you load you truck and things like that. Where you cultivate, where you harvest grounds. Keep that well away from power poles because it is dangerous and it is lethal.

Shane Webcke: Absolutely. Thank you Gavin.

RUN TIME: 3 min 27 sec