Hazards at Harvest Time: Safety Tips for Farmers

October 10, 2022

Marion Barnes, Senior County Extension Agent

Long hours, changing weather conditions, large machinery, and the urgency to get the crop in make fall harvest an especially hazardous time for farmers. Stress and human error can lead to farm injuries and fatalities while gathering crops. Remember that YOU are your most valuable tool on the farm, so be aware of your physical and emotional limits and take care of yourself.

To reduce fatigue, get plenty of rest. Sleep lets your body recover from a hard day’s work. During the day take short breaks or rest periods to stay alert. Take a few minutes, shut down the equipment and walk around to relieve the stress of harvesting. You can look over the equipment for potential trouble spots that could lead to breakdowns during your break period. Give yourself time to relax a little before getting back to harvesting. Eat nutritious meals and stay hydrated to help stay alert and productive.

An often overlooked hazard during harvest time is dust and mold spores that can negatively impact your health if you are exposed to them. If you breathe in grain dust the tiny spores can settle deep in your lungs and make you ill. After prolonged exposure to agricultural dust, many farmers develop sensitivities and respiratory issues. Bronchitis, Farmer’s lung or Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis, and Organic Toxic Grain Dust Syndrome (ODTS) are some of the more serious conditions resulting from exposure to agricultural dust and mold spores. Wearing the proper personal protection equipment (PPE) such as dust masks or respirators offers protection when handling grain.

Farms are noisy places and many farmers suffer from noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) considers noise of 85 decibels (dB) or greater damaging to your ears. Open station tractors, older model tractors, and other self-propelled machinery with cabs may have unsafe noise levels. Noise-induced hearing loss is painless, progressive, permanent, and preventable. Wearing the proper personal protection equipment (PPE) like ear plugs and ear muffs in noisy environments can help reduce NIHL.

Equipment safety during harvest time begins with timely and proper maintenance to reduce the chances of breakdowns during critical times. Turn off equipment before making repairs or adjustments. Make sure guards and shields are replaced after maintenance on equipment is completed. Harvest equipment such as grain combines, cotton pickers, hay balers, and peanut combines have numerous moving parts that can pose entanglement hazards. Avoid wearing jewelry and loose-fitting clothing that may become entangled in moving and rotating parts when working around farm equipment.

One of the most dangerous activities during harvest season is transporting farm equipment on public roadways. As our rural roadways become increasingly congested with traffic, it’s important to ensure that all equipment lighting including warning lights and emergency flashers is in working order. Make sure all slow-moving farm equipment is equipped with slow-moving vehicle (SMV) emblems that can be easily seen by motorists. If possible avoid congested areas and traveling roadways with farm equipment near dawn and dusk and at times of reduced visibility.

Harvest and handling of grain from the field to on-farm storage facilities pose some of the greatest risks to farmers during harvest season. Use caution around grain carts, gravity wagons, and other grain-handling equipment. Never enter trucks, grain carts, gravity wagons, or grain bins when loading or unloading grain. According to the Grain Handling Safety Coalition, flowing grain can trap someone standing on the grain in 4 to 5 seconds and completely engulf that person in just 22 seconds. Flowing grain can entrap and kill. The majority of the grain stored in the US is stored on the farm. It’s up to you to keep everyone on your farm safe from the hazards of flowing grain. Portable grain augers are one of the most dangerous pieces of farm equipment and broken bones, amputations, and electrocutions (from contact with overhead power lines) can occur if augers are not handled properly.

Every year combines, cotton pickers and hay balers catch fire during harvest season, destroying expensive machinery, putting crops at risk, and disrupting harvest operations. Most equipment fires can be prevented with proper and timely maintenance following the manufacturer’s service schedules. Regularly clean dust and chaff from harvesting equipment at the end of the day or as required to prevent buildup. Always turn off engines and wait until all moving parts have stopped before cleaning or carrying out maintenance.  Make sure the appropriate type of fire extinguisher or fire suppression system is in working order. Refer to the equipment’s operator’s manual for the type and class of fire extinguisher you need. Have a fire plan in place so that employees and family members know what to do if necessary so that equipment fires can be handled safely.

Harvest season is a time of long hours and hard work. Keep the aforementioned tips in mind for a safe and productive harvest season. For more information on the farm, safety contact your local Clemson Extension Office.

Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service offers its programs to people of all ages, regardless of race, color, gender, religion, national origin, disability, political beliefs, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital or family status and is an equal opportunity employer.