Flooded machinery in Missouri

Floodwaters cover Missouri River bottom fields at Jefferson City earlier this year.

As farmers and ranchers across the Midwest recover their equipment damaged in spring floods, the safety team at the Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center reminds those working to restore equipment to consider personal safety at each step of the process.

Exposing farm equipment to any kind of water can result in serious problems and can turn a normally safe piece of equipment into a hazard, according to a university news release.

Submerging electric and internal combustion engines or electric appliances in floodwater only adds to the potential for damage and complicates cleanup. Look for a dirty water line on the equipment to get an idea of how high the floodwater rose.

“If you have an internal combustion engine under water, get it out of the water and dried out as quickly as possible because the integral parts of the engine will quickly corrode,” said Steve Melvin, University of Nebraska Extension educator. “Drain oil out of the crank case and fuel out of the fuel system. Replace all the filters.”

Injectors or spark plugs must be removed to ensure there is no water in the cylinders. With electric motors, make sure they are completely dried out, free from any dirt, sand or other flood debris, and grease motor bearings by removing the relief plug and adding grease until the old grease is expelled.

Whether an engine is internal combustion or electric, all parts must be thoroughly dried out before attempting to start it. Any dampness in an electric motor may result in damaging electrical shorts and potentially hazardous electrical shocks.

Because floodwater contains a wide range of particles such as sand, silt and contaminants that include an abundance of fuel, pesticides and other chemicals, carefully inspect engine parts for traces of contamination. Always wear gloves to protect yourself when handling contaminated parts.

“You could use compressed air or something similar to help clean the engine,” said Troy Ingram, University of Nebraska Extension Educator. “If it’s an electric motor, the water may affect bearings, windings and rotor. It’s best to take electric pump units to an electrical shop to have them evaluated, since you rely on them all summer to keep water on crops.”

There’s good reason to believe most internal combustion engines and electric motors can be restored after being submerged in floodwater. However, it’s possible an engine could suffer enough damage that it requires a complete rebuild.

Melvin also noted that securing propane or diesel tanks or moving them to higher ground helps keep them from floating away, keeping everyone safer in the event of a flood.

Often, insurance policies don’t provide coverage for flooding. To thoroughly understand the details of equipment coverage, consult your insurance agent and request specific information about whether or not your policy includes coverage for flood-damaged equipment. It may be helpful to request a written statement of specific coverage details.

“Above all else, stay safe when you’re working in a flood damaged area and when repairing damaged equipment,” Melvin said. “Make sure all power is shut off to these engines and center pivots. Double check to make sure that’s done. Don’t attempt to use a system that hasn’t been thoroughly restored and inspected.”