FACEValue: Farm laborer electrocuted in potato field

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Case report: #10MI069*
Issued by: Michigan Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation
Date of incident: Summer 2010

A farm laborer in his 20s, standing in a pool of water in a potato field, was electrocuted and died when he touched the energized cross-brace of an operational self-propelled irrigation system. The farm office called for emergency response and turned off the irrigation system. The victim was declared dead at the scene. After the incident, the irrigation unit and wiring were examined by multiple firms, but the system could not be restarted for inspection. An investigation found that underground wires supplying power were “burned off” in four places – consistent with a lightning strike. A definitive determination could not be made as to how the victim died.

To prevent future occurrences:

  • Ensure irrigation system wiring and grounding complies with the American Society of Agricultural Engineers Standard S362 and Article 675 of the National Electrical Code.
  • Farmers should implement a periodic electrical inspection program for irrigation equipment at the start of each season that includes periodic inspections of all system components throughout the growing season. This inspection should include checking the integrity of the underground wiring used with the system.
  • Use PVC conduits to protect wiring insulation.
  • Prohibit employees from working in a field area that is under active irrigation.
  • In lightning-prone areas, farmers should consult with the irrigation system manufacturer to determine if installing lightning arrestors would provide additional protection for their equipment.