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A Safe Harvest

Updated September 27, 2021
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Sara Bauder

SDSU Extension Agronomy Field Specialist

A green combine dumps soybean grain into a green wagon at dusk in South Dakota.
Fall harvest is underway. Be mindful of your safety around equipment this fall! Courtesy: Sara Bauder

We hear it all the time. “Be safe!” or “Slow down and think twice!” But it’s easier said than done when running on little sleep and working through the thick of harvest. In 2017 alone, U.S. Census numbers reported that 416 farmers/farm workers died from a work-related injury. Transportation incidents were the leading cause of death in this data (cdc.gov). In addition, every day about 100 agriculture workers suffer a lost-work-time injury. Here are a few tips and reminders for this season.

Roadway Travel

To put it in perspective, if a vehicle travels at 65 mph, and a combine is ½ mile ahead of it travelling at 15 mph in the same direction, it would take 36 seconds for your vehicle to meet the combine. Consider cutting the distance to a ¼ mile; that’s only 18 seconds. With all the potential distractions drivers face today, one can see how an accident like this could occur. In order to keep everyone safe, please take time to consider the following:

Farmers

  • Avoid travelling after sunset and times when more traffic is expected.
  • Be sure all safety lights are on and working and all placards are visible.
  • Avoid parking on roadways, but if it’s necessary to do so, be sure proper safety lights are used.
  • If it’s muddy, clean tires and equipment well enough to avoid leaving mud on the roadway.
  • Transport combine heads separately from the combine when moving on a roadway.
  • Avoid driving distractions, such as cell phones.

Auto Drivers

  • Be patient. Harvest occurs during a short period of the year; quite often, large equipment operators will pull over and allow you to pass when they are able.
  • Leave as much room as possible when meeting large equipment on the road. If the shoulders are good, do not be afraid to slow down and use them.
  • When passing machinery be sure to double check for oncoming traffic, slow down and look for turn signals if the equipment has them. Remember that the equipment operator may be unable to see behind them, making passing very dangerous.
  • As should be done with any other vehicle, avoid tailgating; it is impossible to know when a sudden stop may be necessary.

Grain Handling Safety

Many producers will be hauling and storing grain this fall. In 2020 alone, the United States reported 35 grain entrapments, seven falls into or from grain storage structures, four asphyxiations and 12 equipment entanglements while working around confined agriculture-related spaces (extension.purdue.edu).

Here are a few specific safety precautions to think about this year:

Entanglement/Engulfment

  • Always lock/tag out unloading equipment before entering bins or doing maintenance.
  • Always wear a lifeline or safety harness before entering bins. A body harness is best, as it spreads the force of a fall or a tug of the rope across a larger area of the body. Waist belts can cause serious injury when used to stop a fall.
  • Never work alone in a bin; have someone watching outside the bin that can contact you and call for help.

Electrical/Fire

  • Lower augers, ladders, etc. to avoid hitting any electrical lines.
  • Limit all ignition sources and perform maintenance regularly.
  • Check bins for grain condition and heating during storage periods.

Entanglement/Moving Equipment

  • Keep all guards and shields in place at all times.
  • Block tires and lock raised beds. Lock hydraulics and mechanisms.

Falls

  • Use the 3-4-1 triangle for ladders. Extend ladder three feet above surface for every four feet of height and place the ladder one foot away from surface.
  • Improve bin ladders by adding a cage; raise the bottom of the ladder so that children cannot reach the bottom rung. Add handrails at the end of the ladder (for easy transition to the roof) and guardrails along the roof ladder if possible.
  • Rather than relying on rope, chain or pipe ladders, farmers should use an attached interior ladder. It helps to paint the ladder or wall behind it a bright color to help detect its location in dusty conditions.

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