Electricity can play an important role in sanctuary work – the ability to run heating and cooling devices helps us keep resident living spaces safe and comfortable, being able to flip on an overhead light allows caregivers to more easily perform their responsibilities regardless of the time of day, and various plug-in tools come in handy from time to time. While electricity is helpful (and sometimes absolutely crucial), it can also pose a significant risk to humans and residents. Contact with electrical currents can result in injury and even death of human and non-human animals. Additionally, electrical fires are one of the leading causes of barn fires. To keep both residents and humans safe in sanctuary spaces, sanctuary operators must understand how and why electrical systems pose a safety risk and take steps to mitigate these risks as much as possible.
In this resource, you’ll see numerous references to electrical codes and general recommendations for electrical safety in agricultural settings. While we recognize that Animal sanctuaries that primarily care for rescued animals that were farmed by humans. are vastly different from agricultural settings, there are, unfortunately, no specific codes or universally accepted recommendations for electrical infrastructure and use specifically in sanctuary settings. Despite the many differences between animal sanctuaries and For-profit organizations focused on the production and sale of plant and/or animal products., when it comes to electrical safety, A species or specific breed of animal that is raised by humans for the use of their bodies or what comes from their bodies. sanctuaries face many of the same risks as agricultural settings. Therefore, we must look to electrical safety requirements and recommendations for agricultural settings to ensure electrical safety in sanctuary spaces.
Know Where Buried Electrical Lines Are Located
Accidentally digging into electrical lines can result in serious injury and even death. Why? Just think what might happen if you were to pierce into a live wire with a metal shovel. Electricity is always trying to return to its source. It will take all available paths to complete a circuit, whether they are intended paths or not, so if you or something you are in contact with becomes part of that circuit or creates a new pathway, you will receive an electric shock (or worse). A common misconception is that electricity always follows the path of least resistance, but this is simply not true. Electricity follows all available paths. So don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can safely touch exposed wires as long as the ground wire is in place. If you touch an exposed live wire or component, your body will become a path for current. Even if you’re lucky enough to avoid injury, hitting buried electrical lines is a costly mistake. Not only might you be stuck without power to some or all of your property (which could negatively impact your residents), but you will also need to pay to repair the damaged lines.
When you first acquire a property, it’s recommended that you hire a professional to come out and check the entire property for electrical, gas, and water locates. Be sure to document this information and update it as additional infrastructure is added. By knowing where underground electrical lines (and gas and water) are buried, you’ll be able to know where you can and cannot dig safely.
Of course, there are code regulations for burying wires, so be sure to follow the code. Wires and cables designed specifically for underground installation must be used, and the wire must be buried at least 18 inches below grade. A good practice when burying a wire is to lay it in the 18-inch (or deeper) trench and then apply about 6 inches of soil on top of the wire. Next, run caution tape on top of the 6-inch layer of soil, and then fill the trench (as shown in the graphic below). The caution tape acts as an alert to someone digging above the wire because they will reach the tape before reaching the wire.
Work With A Licensed Electrician For Projects Involving Electrical Work
Improper installation of electrical infrastructure can lead to serious hazards (including short circuits and ground faults), and attempting to do electrical work without proper training can put the installer at risk. While it is legal in most places to do electrical work yourself if you own the property, we strongly advise hiring a licensed electrician to do electrical work. A qualified professional will ensure that any electrical installations and repairs are done as per building codes, which is required legally for safety reasons.
Additionally, a licensed electrician will be able to consider which materials are most appropriate to use in terms of protection from humidity, vapors, dust, etc., based on the environment they will be in. There are waterproof, dustproof, and explosion-proof electrical boxes, outlets, light switch covers, etc., that are designed for agricultural use. Failing to use components that provide the necessary protection from environmental conditions can result in serious safety hazards.
A local electrician can also ensure that lightning arrestors are installed in the electrical panels and can advise you on whether lightning protection systems are warranted on your buildings. Lightning protection systems comprise lightning rods and wires connecting them to ground rods so current has a path to discharge to ground should lightning strike your building. In some areas, lightning is quite rare, and so lighting protection systems aren’t popular. But if you are located where lightning is common, you may consider the added benefits of a protection system.
Be Strategic And Anticipate Future Needs
If you are in a position where you are building from scratch or doing renovations that involve electrical work, be sure to consider both your current and future needs. By discussing these needs with your electrician, they can ensure your electrical infrastructure can safely accommodate those needs. For example, suppose you know you’ll need to use multiple circulating fans to keep your pig residents cool. In that case, you should discuss this need with your electrician so they can ensure you have the infrastructure necessary to do that without overloading your system. You can also discuss the benefits of having certain appliances hardwired (wired directly into the electrical box) rather than needing to be plugged into a socket. A hardwired electrical appliance will have an inherently lower fire risk than one plugged into a socket. Therefore, for things that you plan to use long-term (for example, lights or fans), you can create a safer situation by having your electrician hardwire these appliances.
Of course, not everything will be hardwired, so be sure to also consider the things you will need to plug in. By identifying these things and considering where in the space you will need to use them, you can determine where outlets are necessary. We’ll talk more about extension cords later on in this resource, but you want to avoid using them as much as possible, so when considering outlet placement, you want them positioned so that you can use the device without using an extension cord. You’ll also want to consider the best height for the outlets to ensure cords can be kept safely out of your residents’ reach while still being accessible to sanctuary personnel. By considering these needs and planning for them ahead of time, you can save yourself headaches later on and avoid certain safety hazards!
Don’t Overload Your Electrical System
An overload occurs when too much electrical current (measured in amperes, abbreviated as amps or A) flows through a circuit. Electrical current produces heat, and electrical components (such as wires, electronic devices, etc.) can only handle a certain amount of current. Damage and dangerous overheating can occur if an overload goes on for too long. If you attempt to draw more electricity than your system or its components are rated for, you will cause an overload. Circuit breakers are designed to detect overloads and cut the power before dangerous overheating of conductors or damage can occur. However, if this does not happen, an overload can generate more heat than the components can handle, increasing the risk of fire.
To understand electrical overloads, let’s consider what an electrical system within a structure (such as a barn) entails. First, the structure will have an electrical panel that should house a main breaker and individual breakers. The panel box will be rated for a specific number of amps (amount of current). Each circuit breaker will also be rated for a specific number of amps. The panel will have room for a certain number of breakers, but that does not mean the panel can actually handle that many breakers. The total combined amperage of all circuit breakers in the panel should be equal to or less than 80% of the total number of amps the panel box is rated for in order to avoid an overload when all circuits are in use. Individual outlets are also rated for a specific number of amps, usually 15 or 20. Attempting to use a 15 amp outlet to power a device that pulls 18 amps will result in an overload. In some cases, multiple outlets might be connected to a single breaker. In this case, you must be careful not to draw more amperage from these outlets than the circuit breaker is rated for, or it will trip.
You must understand the capacity of your electrical system and its individual components so that you can avoid a potentially dangerous overload!
Provide Improved Electrocution Protection For Residents And Humans With GFCI
A ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI or GFI) is a safety device that protects against severe shock and electrocution. It can also prevent some electrical fires and reduce the risk of other fires by detecting ground faults and interrupting the flow of electric current. A ground fault occurs when electricity travels through an unintended path to the ground. While this may occur due to an issue with the circuit creating an unintended pathway that allows the current to flow to the ground (for example, as a result of improper installation or a lack of insulation), it’s also possible for a human or non-human animal’s body to provide this unintended pathway to the ground. Both humans and non-humans can be burned, severely shocked, or even electrocuted if their body becomes the pathway through which electricity travels, which might occur when coming into contact with damaged equipment or when their electrical components are wet.
GFCIs work by constantly monitoring the flow of current through the circuit, comparing the outgoing and returning current. In the case of a ground fault, the returning current will be lower since some of the electricity will instead be traveling through an unintended path outside of the circuit. If the GFCI detects even a slight difference between the outgoing and returning current, it will quickly shut off the power and is designed to do so before someone can receive a lethal dose of electricity.
If you’re familiar with GFCIs in residential buildings, you may think they only belong in bathrooms and kitchens. The reason they’re recommended in these rooms is because of the presence of water. Really, GFCI protection is recommended anywhere electricity and water might be in close proximity, which in a sanctuary setting, would include all resident housing. GFCI units can be built into circuit breakers or receptacles.
To ensure continued protection, GFCIs should be tested after installation and monthly going forward. To test GFCI outlets, you can plug in a small device such as a switch-activated nightlight. After ensuring the device is powered, hit the “test” button on the GFCI. If the GFCI is working properly, the device will turn off. You can then hit the “reset” button to restore power to the outlet. If hitting the “test” button does not result in the device turning off, contact a licensed electrician to identify and remedy the issue. Sometimes, the GFCI protection is built into the breakers rather than the outlets. To test the GFCI function in that case, you will have to open the electrical panel door and press the test button on each breaker that has one. If the breaker trips when you press the test button, the GFCI protection is working, and you can reset the breaker. If the breaker doesn’t trip when the test button is pressed, the GFCI protection has failed, and an electrician is needed to repair the circuit.
Provide Arc Fault Protection With AFCI
To add increased protection to GFCI, an arc fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) can be installed in your barn’s electrical panel. This will cut the power if damage to a wire or device or wet conditions causes arcing (a spark moving between two contacts). Electrical arcing is a major cause of fires, so arc fault circuit interrupters are highly recommended in agricultural buildings.
Protect Electrical Wiring From Physical Damage
To avoid a variety of safety issues, it’s essential that electrical wires are protected from physical damage from residents, wildlife, machinery, etc. All electrical wires in resident structures and outbuildings should be encased in conduit in order to protect them from sanctuary residents and wildlife. Wiring (in conduit) should be surface mounted rather than concealed between walls or in ceiling spaces. Surface mounting makes inspection and maintenance easier and can reduce moisture migration and the risk of damage from rodents. Additionally, if wires are concealed by a wall or ceiling, there is a risk folks won’t realize they’re there, which could lead to an accident if someone inadvertently cuts into or punctures live wires.
Not only does all wiring need to be in conduit, but you also need to ensure the conduit is properly secured against walls, ceiling, etc. While some species may not be strong enough to cause damage to conduit, consider that larger residents such as goats, pigs, or While "cows" can be defined to refer exclusively to female cattle, at The Open Sanctuary Project we refer to domesticated cattle of all ages and sexes as "cows." could more easily damage conduit and the wires contained within if they are not flush against walls and are not properly secured. Conduit that is not flush against walls/ceilings is also more vulnerable to accidental damage by humans or machinery. The electrical code requires all conduit in agricultural buildings to be PVC (rather than metal). The dampness and possible exposure to manure gasses in barns cause metal conduits and metal armored cables to corrode prematurely.
Make Sure Electrical Devices Are Appropriate For The Environment
Earlier, we mentioned that a licensed electrician can determine the most appropriate materials to use in your electrical system to protect against dust, moisture, etc. Similarly, any electrical appliances used in the space must also be appropriate for the environment. To protect against dust, moisture, and corrosive gasses getting into the motor, electric motors used in resident living spaces should have a totally enclosed frame. There are different types of motor enclosures suitable for different applications, including Totally Enclosed Fan Cooled (TEFC), Totally Enclosed Non-Ventillated (TENV), Totally Enclosed Air Over (TEAO), and Totally Enclosed Wash Down (TEWD), which is designed to withstand high humidity and wet environments, including high-pressure wash-downs. While devices that have these types of motor enclosures are likely going to be more expensive than ones that don’t, it is imperative that you budget for devices that are safe and appropriate to use in resident living spaces. Purchasing devices that are really meant for indoor residential use (for example, an inexpensive box fan) poses a serious hazard because they are not built in the same way as devices intended for agricultural use and may allow dust and debris to reach the motor, which could result in a fire. While there are vast differences between a An animal sanctuary that primarily cares for rescued animals that were farmed by humans. and an agricultural setting, when it comes to mechanical and electrical devices for resident living spaces, you want to stick to products meant for agricultural use. This includes but is not limited to exhaust fans and circulating fans. Heating devices are sometimes the exception here. We’ll discuss this in the textbox below.
Regularly Dust Off Electrical Appliances, Outlets, And Lights
Dust and cobwebs can be flammable, so it’s important to regularly remove dust, cobwebs, and other debris that may accumulate on electrical appliances, lights, and outlets. In some cases, you may be able to wipe surfaces with a cloth or duster, but appliances with many nooks and crannies will be easier to dust thoroughly with a compressed air blow gun.
Regularly Inspect All Electrical Cords
To catch signs of an electrical issue or damage to cords, all electrical cords must be routinely inspected. If certain appliances are stored and only used seasonally or occasionally, thoroughly inspect the device, including the cord and plug, for signs of damage before use. For appliances that are more consistently in use, check cords and plugs regularly. Do not use devices that have damaged cords or plugs. In addition to checking for signs of damage, it’s also essential to check for heat or signs of burning/melting where it plugs into the wall. Contact an electrician if you note these signs, and do not use the affected outlet until an electrician deems it safe to do so.
Avoid (Or Seriously Limit) Extension Cord Use
We mentioned this earlier, but to avoid unnecessary hazards, you really want to avoid or at least seriously limit extension cord use. Extension cords should never be used while unattended and are therefore inappropriate for appliances that run constantly or need to run overnight. As such, extension cords are absolutely NOT a replacement for permanent electrical installations! Relying on extension cords to power necessary appliances that are used regularly or on a long-term basis (such as fans or heating devices) rather than having an electrician run power to the structure is unacceptable.
That said, while it would be safest to avoid extension cords entirely, we do recognize that might not be entirely feasible. However, it’s important to understand that every plug in a socket is a potential fire risk, and using an extension cord doubles that risk by doubling the number of sockets in use. While there is inherent risk involved when using extension cords, there are things you can do to avoid additional risk. This includes:
- Only use extension cords rated for outdoor use (even if using them inside barns or other structures).
- Only use grounded extension cords (3 wire).
- Never use extension cords in wet areas. While outdoor extension cords are designed to withstand moderate moisture, it’s not safe to use them in standing water.
- Make sure you are using the correct gauge for intended use. The gauge corresponds to the thickness of the wire and the current (amperage) it can handle. As the gauge decreases, the thickness of the wire and the current it can handle increases. Just as you can overload a circuit, you can also overload an extension cord, which could result in a fire!
- Always check extension cords for damage (such as nicks) before using.
- Replace damaged extension cords. Do not attempt to repair them!
- Keep extension cords away from residents and machinery that could damage them (i.e., do not drive over extension cords).
- Protect extension cords from damage from sharp objects, heat, oil, and solvents that could damage insulation.
- Never connect multiple extension cords in order to increase length. Doing so will reduce the amperage rating of the cords and increase the risk of overload.
Have Electric Periodically Assessed By A Professional
While you should absolutely contact a licensed electrician if you are seeing signs of an electrical issue (such as dimming or flickering lights, sockets that are hot, strange noises or odors coming from circuits, or tripping breakers), it’s wise to also have your electric inspected annually even if everything seems to be working well. During this inspection, they may be able to detect and remedy an issue before it has the potential to cause a more serious problem! Degradation of electrical infrastructure can lead to safety issues, so proper maintenance is imperative!
Protection From Barn Fires | Iowa State University Extension And An activity or campaign to share information with the public or a specific group. Typically used in reference to an organization’s efforts to share their mission.
Electrical Safety In The Barn | South Dakota State University Extension (Non-Compassionate Source)