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Getting through harvest with a safety plan

There are many components that make harvest time more accident prone than other parts of the year.

Brent Murphree, Senior Editor, Delta Farm Press

October 13, 2022

5 Min Read
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Moving large pieces of equipment from field to field takes foresight and planning. To stay safe, make a plan. Farm Press

Part two in a series of four safety related Farm Press articles.

The annual mortality rate for farm accidents stands at roughly 60 to 70 per 100,000 of farm population and it is a rate that is not going down, according to the National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health. Many of those accidents occur during harvest time as producers rush to get their crops out of the field.

Harvest is busy and often hectic. There are many components that make it more accident prone than other parts of the year, including the amount of equipment on public roads, the longer hours and the urgent nature of getting the crop out at the right time.

"You have to prepare yourself mentally and physically for harvest," said Pam Robinson, safety and compliance manager at Agricenter International in Memphis, Tenn. "There's going to be a lot of stress with harvest and you may need to let go of a few other things to get through it safely."

Many of the operations take place only this time of year and farmers need to refresh themselves annually on particular things. It involves a number of functions that vary in nature from harvester operation to loading and off-loading goods, as well as storage management and shipping.

There are also a variety of crops being harvested at the same time that require different kinds of management from hay balers to cotton pickers. It requires producers to stay alert and pay attention to everything they do.

It also requires a lot of awareness regarding safety. Which is why the Agricenter has put together the Farm Safe program, which is free to users at FarmSafeEveryDay.com. Agricenter is a nonprofit located in Memphis and has been serving the Midsouth since 1979.

Robinson noted that there are five things that she recommends to help keep operators safe during harvest.

Check it out

"The first thing is that it is important to check out your machinery and equipment," she said.  "If you haven't used something in a year or it's the first time that you've used it personally, you've got to make sure it's in good condition."

Start by making sure the operator understands how to run the equipment and how to run it safely. If there is anything out of place or broken, have it fixed to recommended specifications.

Equipment maintenance is important for proper operation and safety. Make sure that before operation, fluids are at recommended levels and there are no leaks. Levels should be checked during operation, as well.

Safety devices

“Safety glasses, gloves, hats for sun protection and earplugs, all the things that you kind of forget about when you are busy are extremely important every day you're working," said John Butler, president of Agricenter International. "You have to remember all these safety devices, because they help you throughout the process."

Those important devices include a well-stocked first aid kit and fire extinguishers.

"I like to have two fire extinguishers on combines," Robinson said. "You need to make sure they are charged and ready."

See Part 1: Safety program equips farmers with valuable tools

She also said to make sure that your seat belts are functioning and used.

"You should never bypass anything," she said. "If the tractor seat has that interlocking device where you get off the seat and it stops the engine, don't try to get around that. Those are there for a reason.

"All those safety devices need to be checked to make sure that they are in good working order."

Plan your routes

Robinson suggests that while you are making sure your safety devices are in place, you should also plan your transportation routes.

"There is a lot of vulnerability trying to get from field to field," she said. "If you haven't done it in a year or since planting season, there may have been some changes you need to be aware of."

Highways, overpasses, bridges and powerlines are all considerations when moving from place to place.

"A lot of times powerlines could sag in the field," Butler said. "When you are going around a field and cutting the edges in the picker or combine, you need to make sure there hasn't been a pole that's been struck or lines that are hanging lower."

Traffic control changes can alter a route. Guard rail adjustments can change the access to a bridge or overpass.

"We want to encourage the general public just to be patient," Butler said.  "Farmers need to have a lot of room because of the size of equipment. They don't want to be on the road any longer than they have to be."

The drivers of equipment need to always be aware of traffic when on public roads and use extreme caution.

Prepare yourself

It's also important to take care of yourself during harvest season.

"Don't skip meals and try to get some sleep," Robinson said. "I know it's a job where you're up before dawn and continuing after dusk, but you have to give yourself a chance to rest and get some sleep."

Taking the time to eat properly and get plenty of rest will keep you more mentally alert and prepared to manage the unexpected things that may come up during the day.

Create and practice emergency response

Part of the Farm Safe program the Agricenter has put together includes making sure that all farm operations create and practice responses to emergencies that may take place during harvest.

"You can't just have it in your head," Robinson said. "It's something you have to practice. Think about whatever field is the furthest away and what is the worst-case scenario? What could happen out there?"

It is important to plan how to get emergency personnel out to an isolated field, how to manage if there is no cell phone service and how to handle basic first aid until emergency crews arrive.

"So, it's important to have your emergency plans and make sure everybody knows and practices them," she said. "They need to know what to do in case there's an emergency."

Farm Safe provides 17 individual safety modules that farmers can view online for free. The modules range from harvest safety to confined spaces safety. Each one requires only 20 minutes to view at FarmSafeEveryDay.com.

Funding for the program is provided by grants from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration.

About the Author(s)

Brent Murphree

Senior Editor, Delta Farm Press

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