Today I’m sharing an article from AgWeb explaining how harvest this year might be even more hazardous than usual. A lot of crops were planted late this year. This means that moisture content will be higher, which increases the risk of mold and the risk that grain will stick to the sides of bins and equipment, which could create additional engulfment and equipment hazards. Late planting also means later harvest, which in turn means that more people will be on the road during sunset (which tends to be the most dangerous time to move equipment) and after dark. Pushing harvest later also makes it more likely that farmers will have to deal with frost damage and snow.
While a later harvest can’t be helped, there are things that farmers can do to deal with the extra hazards that come with it. It’s difficult to be patient, especially with winter weather coming, but the more you can wait for grain to be properly dry, the more you can avoid the group of hazards that go with wet grain, plus you’ll save on drying costs. Always follow proper grain bin entry procedures, including wearing a harness, not working in the bin alone, and wearing proper respirtory protection. If your grain is running really far behind, consider other options like making silage rather than trying to force it in if it isn’t going to be ready. Make sure that equipment lighting and slow moving vehicle signs on harvest equipment are good to go now, and consider adding additional lighting or some of the newer slow moving vehicle signs that are more reflective. The conditions this year have been far from ideal, but a little bit of preparation will help deal with some of the hazards that come with a late harvest.
I’ve been looking through some of the reports in the database the past few days, and noticed that several involved falls from combine ladders. While the data set is still too small to do much statistical analysis, there are a few things that these cases had in common:
Debris on the ladder: in two cases, mud and ice buildup on the steps were mentioned as the major cause of the fall. Most combine ladders have treads to help prevent falls, but if they’re full of mud or ice they won’t help you. Keeping things clean can be a low priority when it’s harvest and you’re in a hurry, but cleaning out the worst of the buildup if it’s to the point that the treads are getting covered goes a long way towards preventing falls.
Damaged steps or railings: In one case, the fall happened because one of the steps was bent and sloped down. Having a step that is slanted down and is covered in mud makes it really difficult to get a good footing. In another case, the fall happened at a lower step of the ladder and wouldn’t have resulted in an injury except that the railing had a sharp spot where rust had made a hole and it cut the person’s hand on the way down. Again, this comes down to making time to do maintenance and keeping the ladder in good shape
Operator mobility issues: In two cases, the operator’s mobility issues were a contributing factor in the fall. Things like arthritis, knee problems, back problems, and so on can make climbing ladders a lot more dangerous. This is especially true if you’re using an older combine with a rung-type ladder instead of steps. AgrAbility has a lot of great suggestions for modifying steps and ladders for easier access. In their solutions toolbox,click on “tractors and combines” then “equipment added steps and handholds” for a various DIY projects and products that can help make getting in and out of a tractor easier and safer.
Once again I’d like to thank everyone that has contributed reports, and to the couple of people who emailed me articles to post! This project has come a long way in just a few weeks, and I really appreciate how helpful everyone has been!
Here is a video produced by the Kentucky Extension Office that gives some advice on dealing with stuck equipment safely. Small details can make a huge difference both for safety and for being able to get unstuck!
Here is another harvest safety article on fire prevention. I vaguely remember our combine catching fire when I was little. I think we caught it early, and there wasn’t much damage. Someone that lives down the road from us wasn’t so lucky 2 years ago. They made it out in time, but their combine was a total loss and the burnt out shell ended up sitting out in their field for several months before they were able to break it up and have it hauled it away as scrap. Fires can move quickly, causing property damage and putting the operator at risk.
Preventative maintenance is the best way to minimize the risk of fire. Clean out dust and debris before the start of the season and as often as you can during harvest. Also check wiring and bearings for signs of damage at the beginning of the season. Pay especially close attention to the wiring if you see signs that mice have been in your combine while it was parked. I don’t know why mice enjoy chewing on wires so much, but it seems like every few years we find something they’ve chewed up and wreaked.
Having a fire extinguisher handy is also recommended. Since most tractor fires are petroleum based, make sure you get an ABC-type extinguisher. The National Agricultural Safety Database recommends the 5-pound size extinguisher for tractors and combines.Click here to see the NASDB’s recommendations for ag fire extinguishers. Extinguishers cost as little as $30 so it’s not a big expense. Keep an eye on the expiration dates, and make sure that extinguishers are replaced as needed.
If you see signs of smoke, get out of the cab right away. Use caution if you try to put the fire out yourself. Surfaces can become hot very quickly, and if you open on a panel on an area that is on fire, the increased airflow can cause the fire to expand quickly and expand outside of the compartment. When in doubt, call the fire department!