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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Farmers Warned To Avoid Drilling or Cutting Plow Frames

LAS CRUCES -- Farmers should avoid drilling or cutting the sealed metal frames of chisel plows and other weighted tillage equipment because of the risk of an explosion, a farm safety specialist said.

"If this type of equipment has to have lights or trailer hitches or slow-moving vehicle signs attached to it, there are several alternatives, such as using a clamp or steel-filled epoxy," said Craig Runyan with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) issued a hazard alert after two New York farmers were injured in explosions while drilling into plow frames. A subsequent NIOSH investigation turned up cases in other states as well.

"In general, the warning would apply to a large, 4- by 4- inch toolbar that has any number of chisels or plows mounted on it," Runyan said. "This type of equipment is heavy-duty and is made to sink deep into the ground where the added ballast inside the frame would be useful. It's also called several different common names, such as ripper or subsoiler."

Plow frames often are ballasted with scrap metal that can react with water and cutting oils, releasing flammable gases, the NIOSH alert noted. Drilling or welding can ignite the gases, causing an explosion.

It's impossible to tell by looking whether a plow frame contains scrap metal for ballast, Runyan said. Farmers can contact their equipment dealers for more information.

"And if you're not sure, certainly, err on the safe side and don't cut into it or drill or weld on it," he said.

For a copy of the NIOSH hazard identification sheet or more information, contact Runyan at (505) 646-1131 or e-mail him at crunyan@nmsu.edu.