Cane harvesting safety urged


To coincide with the start of the harvesting season, Ergon Energy has renewed its “Look up and Live” campaign, encouraging safe and legal work practices near powerlines.

The number of electrical accidents associated with cane harvesting in North Queensland has remained steady in the past six years. However, the figure is still “stubbornly high”, according to the corporation’s general manager service delivery northern Paul Ryan.

Mr Ryan said the eight incidents last year were down slightly from nine each year since 2009. Nonetheless, Ergon is again urging farmers and harvesting contractors to look up and live and to exercise extreme care when operating machinery near powerlines.

“Electrical accidents in the north are still too high. Eight of the 30 reported state-wide harvesting electrical related incidents occurred in the region in 2013. And while slightly down on the previous year the number is still concerning,” he said.

“Our safety advisors will attend field days in Bundaberg, Townsville, Toowoomba and Mackay to try and reduce incidents in these areas as well as targeted presentations and visits to Innisfail, Burdekin, Proserpine, Home Hill and Ingham in the next few months.

“In the Burdekin, the continuing number of accidents is due to additional infrastructure providing power to pumps on many headlands and cane farmers still burn in excess of 90 per cent of their crop in proximity to electrical infrastructure.”

Mr Ryan said many incidents involving farm vehicles and powerlines could have been avoided and machinery operators should look up when harvesting. He suggested farmers and harvesters think through the task and identify all electrical hazards, assess the risks, establish and introduce control measures, and clear around power poles and pole stay wires during daylight. Furthermore, he said it’s important to keep a safe distance between machinery and powerlines in the case of high voltage lines, as operators don’t need to come into contact with them to be at risk of electric shock.

“Electricity can arc – or jump if conductive material comes close enough – and that’s why it’s vital to stay well away,” he said.

“Safety laws make it illegal to operate machinery such as cane harvesters, haul-out vehicles, cranes and excavators within 3m of powerlines unless operators are authorised. Training is available to enable individuals to work within the 3m exclusion zone.”

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