You're in a hurry and you've set the auger to that bin before. It's a no-brainer. There's a power line close, but you've got a good six foot clearance. That's all you need, you think to yourself.
Six foot- all you need? Really? Maybe it's close enough in horseshoes. But the penalty for misjudging six feet in this case from a distance away of probably 50 horizontal and 20 to 25 vertical is sudden death. No do-overs - you would die instantly in all likelihood if any metal part of that auger tube touches the power line and you're touching the metal auger below. Suddenly, you become the shortest path to ground. In all likelihood, it's 7,200 volts, and there are no second chances once you take a direct hit from 7,200 volts.
"These accidents are almost always fatal," says Wayne Newhart, a retired line worker from the TipMont REMC in west-central Indiana. Today he invests time traveling the state, presenting safety demonstrations. He uses a mock setup and a three-foot-long toy auger plus a hot dog he affectionately names 'Oscar.'
"Oscar will die almost every time the auger bumps into the live power line," he says. "You can see the sparks on the top end where the auger touches the line, and where the hot dog touches the auger at the bottom on ground level. And what we use to demonstrate with is only a toy setup. Imagine the real thing that's carrying 7,200 volts."
One common misconception is that many overhead lines only carry 120 or 220 volts, he says. Instead, most running any distance carry 7,200 in this part of the country. A second misconception is that they're insulated so if you bump into one you're pr0otected. "They're insulated by air that's it," he says. "Once something disturbs the air space, the insulating power is gone and whatever touches it is at risk of becoming a conductor for the voltage in the line."
Many of the demonstrations Newhart presents are on behalf of Indiana Statewide REMC Association. It's in their best interest to promote safety. At this time of year, augers are one of the most dangerous items on the farm, he says. They deserve respect.
The part that makes these accidents so often fatal is that there is not time to react. Electricity flows much faster than a human could recognize the situation and react. By the time a person reacts, it's too late.