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Electrical safety checklist for center pivots

Nearly 20 years ago, a Nebraska state electrical inspector conducted a series of inspections of electrically driven center-pivot irrigation systems with electric pump motors. The findings at that time were shocking.

Ten pivot systems out of 77 inspected were considered lethal, with current flowing to the ground at the time of the inspection. Thirty-eight systems were considered definitely hazardous, and the rest were rated potentially hazardous. All inspected installations violated the National Electrical Code, or NEC.

Key Points

Electrically driven center-pivot systems require safety precautions.

Always install the system using licensed technicians who adhere to NEC standards.

Correct grounding and wiring maintenance are key safety steps.

Safety is still an issue around electrical center pivots two decades later, and the potential for tragedy is always present.

Safety checklist

Here is an incomplete but general preseason safety checklist for irrigators. Adhering to these simple rules could save lives, including your own.

Get it grounded. Two of five electrocutions are directly related to improper installation and grounding of electrical equipment. Bill Kranz, Univer-sity of Nebraska Extension engineer, says ground wiring can easily be damaged by mowers or other machinery, so irrigators should regularly inspect their grounding system.

Always follow NEC standards during installation. Randy Anderson, executive director of the Nebraska State Electrical Division, says, “At this time, a few of the electrical utilities do require irrigation systems to be inspected by the State Electrical Division.”

If working on the system, make sure it is shut off. When working around the pivot, be sure the system is shut down, the power is disconnected and the master control switch is locked, so no one can turn it on while you are working.

Inspect wiring inside and outside of the electrical panel. Rodents can nest in gaps in conduit near the main control panel or gnaw on wire coverings, so regular inspection of all wiring, particularly in the spring, is a crucial safety step, Kranz says. “All wiring does not last forever,” he says. “Part of the preseason checkup should include the electrical system, as well as the mechanical system.”

Avoid the pivot during lightning. Center pivots are excellent lightning receptors and can carry current over long distances. Install lightning arresters to protect equipment and keep away from the pivot during storms to protect your own life.

Avoid underground or overhead electrical wires. Call utility companies before you dig or excavate soil around the pivot. Be aware of the dangers of electrical lines underground and overhead when operating equipment nearby.

Hire competent, licensed electricians for installation and maintenance. And make sure they follow NEC standards. “I would encourage folks to have an electrical inspector check out all installations to ensure that everything is wired correctly,” Kranz says. Refrain from wiring new accessories yourself. “Sometimes it is what people think they know about their system that can cause problems,” he says.

If you feel a tingle when contacting any part of the system, shut it down. “You never know when a problem may occur,” Kranz says. He suggests purchasing inexpensive instruments to check the pivot safely for current.

With this year’s wet weather, “we had more electrical fatalities than normal,” says Anderson. “What is a tingle [when in contact with pivot equipment] in dry conditions might be death in wet conditions.”

For more safety details about guidelines and rules governing pivot installations in your state, contact your local electrician, the state electrical division or regional state electrical inspector.

Arens writes from Crofton, Neb.


SAFETY TIPS: UNL Extension engineer Bill Kranz says proper electrical grounding and installation are important to overall safety of center-pivot irrigation systems.


This article published in the February, 2012 edition of IRRIGATION EXTRA.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.