Many people are unaware that agriculture ranks third, by industry, as the most dangerous occupation. This is especially true during harvest time, and farmers need to be particularly safety-conscious as they begin harvesting their crops. Tractors, combines, trailers, and augers are useful tools on the farm, but without vigilant maintenance and careful procedure, accidents can and do occur. Most accidents and fatalities on the farm can be avoided with some basic attention to detail.
Tractors are the most commonly used farm tool, but they are also involved in 43-50% of all farm fatalities. The most common accident involving tractors is running over someone. Be sure to pay careful attention to you surroundings when you are using a tractor. Do not let your children ride with you on the tractors either; they can easily fall and be crushed under the machine before you can react.
When using the combine, here are some helpful hints to keep in mind. One of the most common fatal injuries at harvest time is getting crushed under the head of the combine. To avoid this, make sure that you lock and block the head mechanically before getting underneath it. Also, disengage the power and shut the engine off before leaving the operator’s station to work on something. To avoid falls from the combine, keep the operator’s platform and the steps leading into the cab clear of debris and mud. Be sure to use the handrails. It is also advisable to keep a 5lb fire extinguisher in the cab and a 20lb fire extinguisher mounted on the outside of the combine.
Roadway accidents are another hazard for farmers during this time of year as the necessity to move equipment on main roads is more prevalent. To help avoid accidents, avoid moving large, slow-moving equipment at night when visibility is poor. Have an escort vehicle with you if possible. Make sure that all safety lights and emblems (SMV sign) are functioning properly. These should be inspected daily.
Another type of accident frequently seen involves falls from grain bins. Be sure to exercise extreme caution when working in the grain storage area. It is easy to become complacent; however, it only takes one slip for tragedy to occur. In 3-4 seconds, the grain will be up to your knees and at that point, it is too late to escape. It only takes 14 seconds for the entire body to be submerged and suffocation is the result. Stay alert!
Other common accidents include electrocution and exposure to poisonous gases. Electrocution is often the result of an auger or trailer unexpectedly hitting a power line when being moved. Be sure to stay aware of the proximity of power lines to your work area. Also, be sure hoses and valves on equipment are in proper repair. Prepare for possible broken hoses and valves by wearing full face mask protection when hooking up the lines and have some fresh water available to wash off with. A direct blast of anhydrous ammonia in the face can kill a person very quickly. Be prepared.
Finally, most fatal farm accidents occur when people are working alone. If you must work alone, be sure to have someone checking on you either by phone or visually every thirty minutes. In order to stay alert, make sure that you get plenty of rest, take frequent breaks and remain hydrated … drink water! Following these simple suggestions will increase your focus, decrease mistakes, and help you to have a successful and productive harvest this year. Please be safe and have a great harvesting season.
A special thank you to Extension Agricultural Safety Specialist, Bob Aherin, University of Illinois.