Warning issued on danger of drilling farm equipment

Safety officials have issued a special warning about the hazards of drilling into certain types of farm equipment after reports of serious injuries that occurred when drilling released and ignited flammable gas from the vehicle frame. They caution that the same type of injury could occur with many other types of non-farming equipment.

The reports were received recently by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) office in New York. NIOSH received two reports of farm workers who were injured while attempting to drill holes into sealed plow frames in order to mount a hitch or a "slow-moving vehicle" sign. These workers received serious skin burns and other injuries when the drill bits penetrated the frames, which released and ignited flammable gases.

The presence of the gas came as a surprise to the workers and even many people familiar with the construction of such equipment. NIOSH determined that hydrogen and methane gas may be produced within sealed frames that are filled during manufacture with scrap metal ballast. The uncleaned, assorted machine shop metal scrap apparently reacts electrochemically with water and emulsion-type cutting oils to liberate flammable gases. Although the reported ignitions involved plows from the same manufacturer, the use of scrap metal fill may not be unique to plows or to that manufacturer.

NIOSH also points out that the hazard is not restricted to farming equipment, despite the nature of the two reported incidents. The potential for such ignitions exists in any equipment with similar ballast in sealed compartments during drilling, cutting, welding, or other operations that both release the gases and provide an ignition source.

To avoid the hazard, NIOSH says workers should not drill, cut, weld, or otherwise penetrate sealed frames of agricultural equipment or equipment with sealed frames that may contain ballast. Laws in some jurisdictions require that agricultural equipment be equipped with "slow-moving vehicle" signs prior to traveling on public roadways, and agricultural workers commonly mount such signs on equipment by drilling into, and bolting the signs to the equipment frame. Instead, signs or other objects can be attached to frames using clamps or devices that will secure them to the frames.

Sources

For more information on the dangers of drilling farm equipment, contact the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health at (800) 356-4674, [(800) 35-NIOSH] or visit the Web site at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/homepage.html.