Moving machinery and equipment like sprayers, combines and grain augers around a farmstead or on a roadway in the presence of power lines is common practice. Each year in the U.S., 62 farmers or farm workers are electrocuted. And in many of those cases, contact between machinery and an overhead power line or utility poll is the cause.  

The news of a farmer’s electrocution inspired one man to found ShockAvoid, a provider of high-voltage proximity alarms to help farmers and crop protection applicators steer clear of dangerous electrical hazards. Committed to staying on the leading edge of new tools and technology to help farmers and ranchers succeed, Nationwide® talked with Mark McLaren, ShockAvoid President and CEO, about how ShockAvoid helps equipment operators avoid electrical infrastructure and prevent electrocution.

  • Nationwide: What is ShockAvoid and how does it work?
  • McLaren: The ShockAvoid SIGALARM system is a set of sensors that mount to farm equipment like sprayer booms that are most likely to come into contact with power lines. A control panel inside the cab alerts the operator when he or she is getting too close to a power line. We also have a wearable device that mounts to the brim of a cap and with a set of LED lights shows proximity to and direction from electrical power sources so the operator can steer clear. This helps mitigate the risk of electrocution.
  • Nationwide: Why did you start ShockAvoid?
  • McLaren: Too many people over the years were getting electrocuted and nobody was really talking about it. We looked at technology that had been around for a while in other industries and found a way to apply it to agriculture so we can help prevent these incidents. As equipment like sprayers and planters get bigger, the risk of electrocution only grows. A 120-foot sprayer boom can get tied up into a power line pretty easily.
  • Nationwide: What makes electricity so dangerous on farms and roadways?
  • McLaren: Every electrical utility, even the table lamp in your home, emits a field of energy around it. Large power lines put off a rather large field around them, and the closer you get to the source, the more powerful they get. To stay free of that field, you do not want to get within 15 feet of a power line. Getting any closer, you risk electrocution.
  • Nationwide: What are some of the unique challenges agriculture poses to this kind of technology?
  • McLaren: It’s a unique environment, with water and corrosive chemicals like herbicide and fertilizer that can damage components. So we had to go through a lot of testing to make it ag-friendly. We also realized early on that it has to be an easy thing for an operator to use or it won’t get used at all. And we’ve made it easy to use for that reason.
  • Nationwide: How can a farmer get started with ShockAvoid or learn more about it?
  • McLaren: ShockAvoid systems are the next generation of electrocution risk mitigation for farm machinery and equipment operators. They’re currently being tested at locations around the central and midwestern U.S. and will be commercially available soon. Find out more about current testing and when ShockAvoid will be available for your farm or agribusiness.

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