Harvest Safety: 8 Ways to Reduce Risks on the Farm

Heather Stone

Sep 06, 2023

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Farming takes great planning, forecasting, research and hard work to maximize potential profit. Farmers face many hazards and risks during harvest. Farming safely requires a significant effort to ensure you go home unharmed to your family daily. 

Reducing Risk for a Safe Harvest

As harvest gets underway, think about how to maximize your profit potential and safety. Here are some areas to help reduce risk as you develop your harvest plan. 

1. Grain Bins and Silos

Grain bins and silos are confined spaces with hazards that can change in the blink of an eye. Don't work alone; use the buddy system to enter them. Recognize and discuss the dangers before performing the job. Plan for hazards that you know are present, such as: 

  • Suffocation from engulfment or entrapment

  • Explosions due to high amounts of grain dust

  • Falls from heights

  • Crushing and amputation from grain equipment 

2. Equipment

Farm equipment should be harvest-ready several weeks before or during the off-season. Review operation manuals and follow the manufacturer's guidelines.  

Pay attention to safety labels because they often bring attention to hidden hazards such as energized areas, moving parts, or pinch points. Do not modify equipment. Are all the machine guarding and shields in place? If not, why not?  

Powered take-off (PTO) injuries are common on the farm; according to the National Agricultural Safety Database (NASD), shielding is absent or damaged in 70% of the injuries. Farm workers should wear well-fitted clothing to prevent entanglement in farming equipment. 

3. Overhead Power-lines 

It can be dangerous when working with tall equipment. Do you and your farm workers know where your overhead power lines are? You should check for changes and sagging that may have occurred during the off-season. You can ask local utility companies to help determine the height of overhead lines on your farm.  

Many types of farm equipment have risks of contacting overhead lines, such as tractors with front-end loaders, equipment with antennas and portable grain augers. NASD recommends that if your equipment contacts an overhead line, stay put and call for help. 

If an emergency arises, jump as far away from the equipment as possible. Never allow any body part to touch the equipment and the ground simultaneously. Wait to get back on the equipment until the utility company has removed the hazard.

4. Corn Pickers, Combines and Tractors

Corn pickers, combines and tractors are big machines with many moving parts. Do you know what types of equipment can cause severe injuries on your farm? If corn pickers and combines are clogged, train farm workers to turn the equipment off, ensure it's stopped and attempt to free debris.  

Inform workers of pinch points where clothing, fingers, and legs can get caught. Always use the handrails to mount and dismount the equipment. Keep the steps free of dirt to avoid slips and falls. Do you have wells, equipment, gates or above-ground pipelines marked to ensure safe turning of your equipment? 

Tractor accidents in farming tend to lead to serious, if not fatal, injuries. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), "An operator's chance of surviving a tractor turnover without a serious injury is good if the tractor has a roll-over protective structure (ROPS) and the operator is wearing a seat belt."  

[RELATED: Saving Lives and Reducing Cost: The Importance of a Strong Safety Culture]

5. Agricultural Equipment on Public Roads 

You must know the specific rules you must meet for lighting and marking before using agricultural equipment on public roads. New equipment operated on public roads must meet standards outlined in ANSI/ASAE 279.14 JUL2008 "Lighting and Marking of Agricultural Equipment on Highways."  

Some additional things to plan for before getting farm equipment on roads are:   

  • Can the equipment be moved on public roads during daylight hours to avoid driving in the dark? 

  • Do you know the towing capacity of your equipment, correct hitches and chaining? 

  • Weight and towing affect speed. Have you communicated that with all drivers? 

  • Plan and discuss dual brake pedals, climbing and descending hills, lane usage, etc. Refrain from assuming your workers know how to drive safely on public roads.

6. Feeling Tired

Stop and take a break. If you're not getting enough sleep, it can become a safety hazard. When you're tired, your reaction time is slower, you can have trouble remembering things and you are at risk of falling asleep on the job. Several studies show that lack of sleep and being tired can be compared to being drunk. NIOSH posted a study that states that being awake for 17 hours is similar to having a blood alcohol content of 0.05%.

7. Hydration and Good Nutrition

It is vital to keep yourself healthy during harvest. Eating small snacks, not skipping meals, and staying hydrated are essential. Implementing these habits during harvest will provide continuous energy to cope with busy, stressful, and long workdays. Remember your sleep!

8. Additional Safety Topics 

  • Ensure that you have adequate lighting during pre-dawn and after-dusk activities. 

  • Temperatures still get high during the Fall months. Plan to bring enough water for the day, even though the mornings may be cooler.

  • Have a plan for equipment breakdowns and maintenance. 

  • If you work alone, always be sure someone knows where you will be during the day. Have a plan if you are injured, or equipment breaks down.

  • Have personal protective equipment purchased and ready. For example, respirators that meet NIOSH N95 requirements to prevent inhalation of grain dust.

  • Be sure to clear debris from roads on your farm. Check your roads for potholes and ruts that can unbalance heavy equipment. 

  • Make sure there is supervision for children during this busy time.

Stay safe this harvest. You are someone's child, parent, or grandparent. Nothing is more important than your safety and workers' safety during harvest. 

Health Coverage for Farmers with FBN® Health

Staying safe on the farm starts by creating a strong safety culture. Knowing that you and your employees are looking out for each other will ensure that everyone goes home safe to their family at the end of each day. And staying safe means staying healthy. 

Our team is staffed by licensed health insurance experts to help you make the right coverage decisions for your family and operation. We will walk you through the application and enrollment process and be there to answer any claims questions throughout the year.

Compare health plans, get a free quote and see how much money you could potentially save by signing up for coverage through FBN Health by clicking here or calling 877-892-3303 to speak with one of our agents.

Related Farm Safety Resources

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Heather Stone

Sep 06, 2023

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