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Plan for a safe harvest


Don’t let the harvest rush end up with a rush to the emergency room. Or worse yet, don’t let it be your last rush.

Equipment safety precautions all too often are forgotten or disregarded when the crops are ready to bring in. Take time now to work these combine safety procedures into your routine to avoid being a farm accident statistic. They come from Dick Nicolai, an engineer and farm safety specialist at South Dakota State University.

At a glance

• Grain bins and stored grain aren’t the only harvest hazards.

• Do this checklist first before harvest to avoid problems later.

• Make sure suitable firefighting equipment is on the combine.


• Conduct a safety check before going to the field. Replace all guards and shields that may have been removed. Replace or repair non-functioning lights, especially headlights and taillights.

• Examine fields for hazards such as erosion washouts and anything else that may have developed during the growing season. Tell your workers about them, too.

• Adjust and service the combine as directed in the operator’s manual. Some adjustments need to be made while the machine is running, but all others should be done with the combine stopped and the key removed from the combine’s ignition switch.

• Remember the hazards posed by straw choppers and spreaders. Allow adequate run-down time before approaching the rear of the combine.

• Always refuel the combine or tractor after it has cooled. Fuel vapors can easily ignite on hot engine and combine parts. Refueling accidents are a major cause of combine fires.

• Make sure there is suitable fire-fighting equipment, especially a fire extinguisher, available on the combine. The extinguisher should be regularly checked and accessible from the ground.

• Grease and check the combine in the morning while your mind is fresh. Put the ignition key in your pocket so no one can start it or the tractor while you are working on the machine.

• Check hydraulic leaks carefully. Use a piece of cardboard, wood or sheet metal to detect leaks. Hydraulic oil under high pressure can easily be injected through the skin and cause serious medical problems.

• Drive the combine only while you are alert. Hours of steady operation can lull you into a hypnotic state. To avoid this, schedule a break for yourself and all workers every two to three hours. Change jobs with someone else who can operate the combine for a while.

• Use the safety stops on the header lift cylinders when working under the header. Don’t trust hydraulics with your life.

• Keep your distance from other vehicles and machines. Combines need a lot of room to maneuver and have large blind spots. Always be aware of the location of any other equipment.

• Move combines from field to field only during the daylight. Driving combines on public roads after dark can be risky. The size of a combine, coupled with its unfamiliar shape and lighting pattern, can make it a hazard on the road after dark.

• To control dust and noise, always operate with cab door shut. Exposure to high levels of grain dust causes ill health, including occupational asthma, farmer’s lung, grain fever, chronic bronchitis and allergic eye and nasal infections.

Chance of fire

A clean combine or tractor engine will help eliminate a cause of fire at harvest, says Dick Nicolai of South Dakota State University.

Farmers can use pressure washers to remove all grease, oil and crop residue, he says. A clean engine will run cooler, operate more efficiently and be less likely to catch fire.

“It’s important to frequently blow and dry chaff, leaves and other material off the machine with compressed air, and to clear off any wrapped plant materials on bearings, belts and other moving parts,” he says. “If any fuel or oil hoses, fittings or metal lines are leaking, make sure to reduce the trash in the combine and the bin as much as possible.”

Nobody’s keeping track

In a five-week period this spring, news reports indicated nine Nebraska farmers lost their lives due to farm accidents involving equipment such as tractors, skid-steer loaders and grain augers, as well as from suffocations in grain bins and in hog pits.

That rash of deaths is in addition to the deaths and injuries last fall and winter from inspecting out-of-condition stored grain.

Trouble is, today there is no official collection of Nebraska farm deaths and injury data like there was in the past. Blame budget cuts in Extension safety programs. Federal dollars aren’t flowing for farm safety positions anymore.

One University of Nebraska-Lincoln staffer, up until only recently, had what Ron Yoder calls a “small assignment” in farm safety, namely in collecting data. That “little piece” of funding has since been transferred to two Extension educators to put on some training sessions.

Yoder, who is head of the UNL Biological Systems Engineering Department, says he regrets that loss of funding. In years past, UNL had a full-time farm safety specialist.

“I grew up on a farm, and I’m a strong proponent of advancing farm safety, but the funding has gone down, down and down.”


This article published in the August, 2010 edition of NEBRASKA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2010.