A modern farm can be a dangerous and unforgiving place. Fall is a high-risk time as harvest operations ramp up quickly. In Wisconsin, there are tight time windows to get forages, corn, soybeans and other crops harvested and put into storage. It’s that time pressure that often contributes to mistakes and leads to injury or death. Machinery plays a major factor in serious harvest season injuries. Here are some tips to put safety into practice.
“Think like a pilot or a NASCAR driver,” said John Shutske, Director of the UW Center for Agricultural Safety and Health and agricultural engineering specialist. “Invest prep time to get your equipment ready for the busy season. Adjustments and maintenance that improve safety will also maximize the quality and value of your crop. Many terrible farming injuries happen when a breakdown occurs. People get super-stressed and frustrated and then do something they know is dangerous.”
As a farm owner, manager, or equipment operator, think of your role the same way an airplane pilot or race car driver would. That means establish something like a pre-flight or pre-race checklist– a run-through and shakedown to make sure all systems are go.
Consult your operator’s manuals. Are shields or guards in place – on tractors, choppers, blowers, wagons, combines, and augers? Replace questionable hydraulic hoses and know the status of any bearings and belts that might need repair during the season. The last thing you want is a surprise.
Carry a fully-charged, 10-pound ABC dry chemical fire extinguisher on all machines including trucks. Keep a first aid kit or safety supplies in al field vehicles.
“Gear up for highway travel,” said Cheryl Skjolaas, University of Wisconsin-Extension agricultural safety specialist at UW-Madison. “Minimizing time spent on the highway is the ideal way to reduce hazard levels. However, that’s often not practical. Plan highway travel when possible to avoid high traffic times including the morning commute and the rush to get home after school. Evening times are highest risk because of the hurry combined with low light conditions as the fall sun gets low in the sky.”
With fewer daylight hours, make sure SMV emblems and other reflectors are bright and visible. Insure each day that lights and flashers are fully operational. When you leave the field in the evening, make sure to switch off rear-facing work lights. Make sure you understand and comply with all state and local lighting, marking, width, weight limit laws and other rules.
Another important safety measure is to train, coach and create expectations with your employees. Many farms have hired workers to assist with harvest – as an employer, spend time with them. Talk about your operation’s safety expectations and culture. If your farm publishes a newsletter, consider adding safety content. If you need information, check in with your local Extension agent, the UW Agricultural Safety and Health website, or safety decals on key pieces of equipment. Similarly, if you’re hiring custom work, discuss your safety expectations with those doing harvest work or other jobs. Small things like discussing travel routes for equipment will reduce everyone’s stress.
Everyone who you work with—family members, hired workers, custom operators and others need to know what to do the unexpected happens. All who are involved need a reliable way to communicate, but realize that if it’s a smartphone, steps need to be taken to make sure people are not distracted by phone use while driving or operating.
A safe harvest requires a little extra daily effort. In the end, the payoff is significant when there are no injuries or downtime and you get through the productive season without incident.