|Portable Welders: Necessary, but Deadly on the Farm|
|Library of Articles - Farm Safety|
On many farms they are integral to keeping equipment repaired and functional, but on other farms they are death lurking at the end of a frayed cable. Portable welders in good condition and used properly are valuable allies in reducing down time in the press of fieldwork. But many farmers and farm workers have not only suffered debilitating shocks, but electrocution from welding equipment that is not maintained and should have been replaced long ago. Safe Electricity, a program of the Energy Education Council, strongly urges farmers to keep welding equipment in good repair as a matter of course.
On a hot July day when a rotary mower required repairs, a 43 year-old Michigan dairy farmer plugged in a 240 volt portable arc welder to fix a broken stone guard. The ground wire on the plug was broken off, both welder cables had exposed wiring, and the ground clamp wiring was almost completely exposed according to national safety inspectors who investigated the death. They reported the victim had been electrocuted because of the overall poor condition of the welding equipment, which was bought used about 40 years before the accident and caused the mower to be energized.
Such avoidable tragedies happen periodically in rural America, where welding equipment is frequently found in farm shops. Many farmers either learned welding in high school vocational agriculture classes or are self taught, and have respect for the danger created when using welding equipment. However, most safety concerns focus on the potential burns from welding rods, hot metal, or the electrical arc, as well as fire potential from sparks, but not necessarily of electrocution. In the case of the dairy farmer, welding was a routine task, but the worn cables and broken grounding plug were responsible for the electrocution.
Safe Electricity recommends maintaining equipment in good operating condition as well as the protective personal equipment that should be worn.
Specifically, farmers are urged to ensure that grounding plugs are completely functional, and groundless adaptors should not be used. Welding cables and grounding clamps should be completely insulated because of the danger that results from broken insulation.
Another welding fatality occurred when a 44 year old Michigan farmer connected a second set of welding cables to enable him to reach a wagon that was being repaired. A 240 volt, 90 amp, portable welder had been turned on, and the victim crawled under the wagon to begin welding. The combination of his perspiration, damp soil, and the bare connectors caused a fatal electric shock according to authorities, even though he was 10-12 feet away from where the connectors were lying on bare ground.
Safe work procedures need to be developed for welding, such as using extended reach cables if the welder cannot be placed adjacent to the worksite. Connect the grounding clamp as close as possible to the area being welded, and ensure it is in good condition, as well as the grip for the electrode
Properly sized ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI), which shut off power instantly if there’s a problem, should be used. In the second accident, a GFCI would have shut off the circuit when electricity was leaking into the ground because of frayed or worn cords between the welder and the outlet box.