Fall harvest safety

combine driving down road

Photo by Cheryl Skjolaas.

Along with shorter days and cooler temperatures comes the fall harvest.  Everyone on the farm knows this means there is a lot of work to be done in a short amount of time.  The unusually wet fall has led to impatience to get out in the fields and get harvest done.

One of the first things to keep yourself and your employees safe during harvest is to ensure that you get enough sleep.  Plan your days out so that you have breaks built-in.  Repetitive tasks can cause fatigue and distraction.  The constant hum of machines can lull a tired body into sleep, so taking frequent breaks to stretch legs, reengage the brain, and check on equipment function periodically can help get you through the day.

Taking time to eat is important as well.  Bring enough meals with you in a small cooler for the day, take a meal break at home, or have someone bring meals to you while out in the field.  Be sure to take plenty of water with you, as staying hydrated is important too.

While you are out in the field, follow these tips from Cheryl Skjolaas, agriculture safety specialist with UW-Extension to stay safe.


Review machine manuals.

Train employees and family on how equipment works.

Maintain equipment to prevent break-downs, frustration in the field, and accidents.

Review machine manuals.  Taking the time to review manual before getting into full-on harvest mode can save on frustration in the field, especially on machinery that may only get used one season of the year.

Be sure to train others on equipment before letting them operate it. Don’t fall into the trap of complacency by assuming that a neighbor that is helping you out knows how to operate your equipment.  Unfamiliarity with equipment can place the operator and others nearby in dangerous situations.  Even if it is a quick run-through of operation and safety procedures, it can help keep your equipment operating top-notch and keep your employees, neighbors, and family safe.

Maintenance is key.  Keeping a list of maintenance tasks and who is completing them before hitting the field is key to preventing break-down in the field.  “It’s when things break down and we lose time that we take unsafe shortcuts, which can lead to accidents,” says Skjolaas.

Have and communicate a daily plan that everyone on the farm and family knows.  Hopefully you never need to use any emergency plans, but clearly communicating where you will be and for how long can help keep you safe.  “If someone isn’t back by 9 p.m., do you know what field they are in, which route they are on?” asks Skjolaas.  Do your family a favor and let them have peace of mind knowing where you will be so if you aren’t back at the expected time, they can come check in on you.

Know where your kids are.  Especially if your family is taking care of kids or grandkids while working in the farmyard or out in the field, always be aware of where they are at.  Kids tend to do unexpected things and move in more unpredictable patterns, so set some ground-rules for safety while around farm equipment.  Keep kids off farm equipment and moving parts.  Make sure they know where their safe play zones are, don’t assume they know where it is.

Prevent machinery entanglement.  The leading cause of death and injury on a farm is machinery entanglement.  Be sure shielding or guarding around moving parts is intact and in-place while the machine is operating.  Again, keep kids away from moving parts of equipment.

If you are tired, take a break. If you are feeling fatigue, it is easier to take shortcuts or make mistakes that lead to injury and accidents.  If your body is telling you that you are tired you really should give it the rest it needs.  Caffeine and sugar are not healthy alternatives to keep you going.

Following these safety tips can help keep you, your family, and your employees safe this harvest season.


Note: This article originally was published in the Marquette County Tribune, Waushara Argus, and/or the Berlin Journal.  This article was written by Lyssa Seefeldt, UW-Extension Agriculture Agent for Marquette County unless otherwise noted.