Electrical injuries–and sometimes even death–are more common than you might think. An average of 30,000 electric shock injuries are reported in the US every year. While most of these injuries occur on the job when working with electricity, there is always a risk when electricity is involved.
Electric shock injuries do occur on the farm, especially around electric fencing equipment. These accidental injuries are also preventable. Let’s take a look at what to watch for and how to stay safe with electric fences.
What is an Electric Fence?
An electric fence is any configuration of fencing that involves electrified wires designed to give a deterring zap. This includes stand-alone smooth wire electric fences used for temporary containment as well as added reinforcement strands to other fencing materials like wood or woven wire field fence.
Is Electric Fencing Safe?
The simple answer is yes. Electric fencing is a safe and effective fencing material for most livestock. However, it can become unsafe when installed improperly or when the equipment becomes damaged.
Safety Tip: Electric fencing should utilize smooth wire. Don’t electrify a barbed wire fence. It increases the likelihood that an animal may get stuck in a fence and suffer additional injury.
Need to Know Safety for Electric Fencing
From installation to daily contact working with and around the fencing, there are a few things you should keep in mind to prevent an electric shock injury on the farm.
Safety Tips for Electric Fence Installation
Most of the problems with electric fence safety originate in the initial design or installation of the fence system. So, let’s take a look at how to safely install an electric fence first.
An electric fencing system includes three components:
- The Energizer
- Ground Wire
- Fence Wire
The energizer is what generates the electric current that travels through the hot wires. Its power source is either an alternating current (AC) plugin or a battery. When shopping for your fencing components, consider how many joules your fence should have based on the size and design, and check the joule rating on the energizer.
Safety Tip: Only buy an energizer with the capacity to do the job. You should never connect more than one energizer to a circuit.
In order for an electric fence to work–that means it produces a shock when an animal makes contact with a hot wire–the circuit must be grounded.
Poor grounding is the leading cause of fence problems.
Most fences require at least three grounding rods spaced 10 feet apart. The length of the fence line, geological conditions, and the capacity of the equipment may all factor into the performance.
Safety Tip: Do not use copper grounding rods. While copper wiring in a home is a good conductor of electricity, a copper grounding rod exposed to environmental conditions isn’t as effective as galvanized stainless steel. A poor ground can lead to fence problems for people and animals, and encourage misuse.
Even when an electric fence is installed properly, accidental misuse can lead to injuries. Keep everyone on the farm safe with clear signage and communication. We recommend that you install, label, and communicate cut-off switches at accessible locations in case of an emergency.
Safety Tips for Daily Work with Electric Fencing
Most of the exposure to risk comes from handling animals and doing chores around the farm. In fact, when we do the same activities every day, we tend to grow complacent. Taking shortcuts like ducking between the wires instead of opening the gate increases the chance of an injury.
Safety Tip: Avoid body contact with live strands at the head, neck, and back.
While the joule rating should be low enough not to cause any serious injury, this is an unnecessary exposure to risk. Keep in mind that injuries occur when electric circuits malfunction. And if your animals are paying attention, you might be inadvertently teaching them not to respect your fence.
Safety Tip: Add signage and high-visibility markers to your electric fence lines, particularly where they run close to roads and property lines.
Finally, consider alternatives to electric fencing, especially in areas where animals are in close confinement. Woven wire field fence makes a durable, cost-effective fencing option for many different agriculture situations. It can be reinforced with electric wire to keep large predators like bears away. Or, it can serve as a standalone fence for almost any type of livestock.
Final Thoughts on Electric Fence Safety
Electric fencing is a practical and relatively safe option. But it’s not without risks. If you choose to use electric wire on your farm, take care to design safe circuits and practice caution with visitors and those working around the farm. Red Brand has more than 130 years of experience in manufacturing high-quality agriculture fencing materials. Shop our fencing products today.