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Using Harvesting Machines Safely


  • About 15% of all farm machinery-related injuries and deaths occur during harvest time.
  • Most of harvest time amputation injuries involve unclogging crop material from a running machine.
  • Although there are different machines to harvest crops, a similar set of safety rules can be applied to all of them for a safer—and more efficient—harvest.
  • Have a "safety first" attitude around the harvesting machinery, follow safe work practices all the time, and be a good example for fellow workers.


  • Inspect harvesting machinery and correct any potential hazards before operating.
  • Always read and follow operating, maintenance, and safety instructions in your harvesting machinery's instruction manuals
  • Make sure those who use the machines are competent both to do so (both physically and training-wise) and to do so safely.
  • Try to be physically and mentally fit before operating harvesting machinery.
  • Take frequent rest breaks when operating harvesting machinery.
  • If driving a ROPS-equipped tractor, wear your safety belt.
  • Keep all harvesting machinery shields and guards in place while operating.
  • Identify and keep away from dangerous areas on and around harvesting machinery—e.g., pinch points, shear points, wrap points, pull-in areas, thrown objects, crush points, free-wheeling parts.
  • Watch out for obstacles, ditches, steep hills, and other hazards that could cause harvesting machinery to overturn.
  • Adjust your machine's speed to the terrain and visibility conditions.
  • Before dismounting a harvesting machine to unclog, inspect, or service, shut it down, turn off the engine, remove the key, and wait for all moving parts to stop.
  • Keep children away from any operating harvesting machine and its discharge auger.

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Harvest Safety to Prevent Accidents

Where there are different machines to harvest crops, a similar set of safety rules can be applied to all machinery for a more efficient harvest.

According to National Safety Council statistics, more than 14 percent of all machinery-related injuries reported in the 1982 Farm/Ranch Accident Survey Report occurred during harvest time.

The operator's manual of each machine should be reread each season. It provides information on the proper use and care of equipment, including safety precautions which need to be taken.

Most harvest-time amputation injuries occur while farmers are unclogging a running machine. You should always disengage and turn it off before unclogging, adjusting or servicing.

In addition, here is advice on harvest safety precautions:

  • Make sure all workers are trained and competent to safely carry out their assignments.
  • Wear the appropriate personal protective equipment. Choose work clothing that provides adequate skin protection and has no loose ends that could get caught by machinery.
  • Keep all shielding in place and stay away from unshielded moving parts.
  • What where you are going. Adjust ground speed to field and crop conditions. Avoid ditches, steep slopes, overhead power lines, etc.
  • Keep extra riders off and away from all machinery.
  • Take frequent work breaks to maintain alert and reduce fatigue.

Tips for An Accident-Free Harvest

Grain farmers know that it's dangerous for children to play near a combine or tractor. But there are other safety factors to consider as noted in these tips provided by the National Safety Council:

  • Always read and follow operating, maintenance and safety instructions contained in the instruction manual that comes with your equipment.
  • Keep equipment in good working order.
  • Make sure all your workers are properly trained and competent.
  • Make sure you and your workers wear the appropriate personal protective equipment for the job. A hardhat or bump cap, safety shoes and hearing protectors are recommended for use in the field; in dusty conditions, use an appropriate respirator.
  • Watch out for obstacles, ditches, steep hills and other hazards that could cause your combine/tractor to overturn. Adjust your speed to ground and visibility conditions.
  • Wear your safety belt when driving ROPS-equipped tractors.
  • Keep shields in place when operating your combine/tractor. Stay clear of moving parts. Always turn off the power before unclogging or servicing machinery.
  • Make certain portable elevators are stable. Lower them before moving, being especially wary of overhead power lines.
  • To prevent becoming a grain "drowning" victim, enter a grain storage bin only after all unloading equipment has been stopped and switches are locked in the "off" position.
  • If grain should bridge, break it down from outside the bin with a pole. Enter such a bin only with a lifeline attached and someone standing by to help you in case of a cave-in.
  • Above all, keep children away from bins. Make certain they understand that it is dangerous and no place for play.
  • It is wise to heed safety precautions to reduce the risks of becoming involved in an accident that is both debilitating and costly.

Summertime Farm Safety Tips

The National Safety Council's Farm Department and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have come up with four themes for safety emphasis during the summer months: Safe Harvest of Small Grain; Water Recreation; PPE Protects (Personal protective equipment); and Safety Belts Save Lives. The variety of subjects reflects the variety in the lives of farm families during this busy season of work, play and travel. The Council has provided farm families with the following safety tips:

  1. For safe harvesting, operate and maintain harvesting equipment as directed in instruction manuals; make sure workers are competent and know how to do the job safely; keep all machine shields and guards in place while operating and stay clear of unshielded moving parts Also, stop the machine and turn off the engine before unclogging, inspecting or servicing; adjust machine ground speed to surface, crop and visibility conditions; keep children away from the harvesting equipment, the combine's discharge auger, grain bins and tanks; and wear protective safety gear.
  2. In the area of water recreation, the Council advises farm and ranch residents to swim or at least to float well enough to survive in water; poor or beginning swimmers stay out of deep water; step carefully on docks, banks, and at poolside to avoid slipping; supervise small children in the water; have fully-inflated rescue equipment handy; learn first aid and safe boating rules; and limit drinking while boating.
  3. Personal protective equipment can reduce the number and severity of farm accident injuries and occupational illnesses, the Council notes. Some key safety points for farm workers include protecting the head with a hard hat when performing construction work, trimming trees, repairing machinery and doing other jobs with head injury risks; wear a bump cap for everyday farm tasks; protect vision with impact-resistant safety eyewear; protect hearing with acoustic ear muffs or inserts when operating noisy farm equipment; protect lungs with respiratory equipment appropriate for the job and hazards; use a dust mask or filter respiratory equipment appropriate for the job and hazards; use a dust mask or filter respirator when working in dust, spray painting or handling moldy hay. Also, use a chemical cartridge respirator or gas mask when applying pesticides or ammonia fertilizers; use a self-contained breathing device in places with toxic gases or insufficient oxygen; protect hands with gloves or barrier creams; don't wear gloves near moving parts; protect feet with safety shoes or boots with slip-resistant soles; and, protect skin with impervious garments when using toxic or irritating chemicals.
  4. In the area of auto safety, the Council strongly suggests always fasten a safety belt, both lap and shoulder restraints, when driving or riding in a car; insist that passengers wear safety belts and make sure child safety seats and infant car carriers are of good quality and meet applicable safety standards. Also, replace old seat belts with new ones of the best quality available; don't disengage safety belt "reminder" devices such as buzzers or lights and, use a safety belt when operating farm tractors equipped with roll protection.

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Last updated: 06-Mar-2007 12:26 PM