Tuesday, September 2, 2014
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Don’t minimize risks of working with electricity

Jeff Burbrink offers electrical safety advice.
Posted on Jan. 2, 2014 at 12:00 a.m. | Updated on Jan. 2, 2014 at 11:43 a.m.

Jeff Burbrink

Around Area Farms

Kyle Finley is a farmer and electrician from southern Illinois. He has a unique business, called Live Line Demo that he takes across the country to demonstrate various ways that electricity can kill you, and more importantly, how to protect yourself. I recently witnessed Kyle’s program at the Michiana Irrigation Association meeting in Middlebury, and I can honestly say it made me think a lot more about electricity.

Kyle started his talk with some discussion about standard 120-volt electricity like we have in our homes and businesses. Most people, including me, do not think about 120 as a safety risk, and that is where we are wrong. A miss-wired circuit, a damaged extension cord or accidental exposure to water would be all it would take to kill a person.

He gave an example of a farmer working on a field cultivator with an extension cord draped over the implement. One small cut can electrify the equipment. If a person touching the equipment is grounded, the power will pass through his body. At 120 volts, your grip becomes vise-like. You cannot let go. Even if you survive, your internal organs often are affected. Tragically, many of these scenarios end with multiple people being hurt, because the first instinct is to pull the person loose, and of course, the second person gets shocked, too.

Kyle gave several suggestions to reduce the chance of this happening. An important one was to throw away old drop cords with nicks and tears on them. Duct tape and electrical tape do not do a good job at repairing a cord. Do not forget to rewire cords on equipment like circular saws, drills and welders that are often used in wet areas.

Another of Kyle’s suggestions was to use drop cords with ground fault interrupt (GFI) circuitry built in. Assuming the outlet is properly grounded, a deviation in the voltage on the cord will cause the GFI to trip, shutting down the tool but keeping you safe.

In many states, GFI outlets are required in all construction. In Indiana, however, GFI circuits are not mandatory unless the outlet is “near a wet area.” Using GFI outlets in a new home or building might cost a little more ($200 to $300 per home), but far less than a permanent injury or lost life.

After hearing Kyle’s talk, I changed my Christmas wish list to include some GFI cords and portable CGI outlets, not only for me, but also for some family members. I found I could buy several of these units for under $50.

In next week’s column, I will write about electrical safety around higher voltage and how to protect you, your loved ones and co-workers from other dangerous situations.

Jeff Burbrink is an Extension educator in agriculture and natural resources. Write to him at 17746 E. C.R. 34, Goshen, IN 46528; call 533-0554; or fax 533-0254.




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