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Harvest Safety

Updated: Dec 6, 2022

Photo of equipment harvesting corn.

Harvesting crops is dangerous work. In Iowa, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health, about half of the 500 farm injuries that occur yearly take place during August through November, our prime harvest months. An ISU Extension publication (Harvest safety yields big dividends) states that almost half of farm injuries occur in August, September, October and November.

According to the National Ag Safety Database, injuries are often caused by one of these five contributing factors: stress, negligence, recklessness, fatigue or overexertion. Especially during the pressures of the harvest season, it’s entirely possible for those working to experience one or more of these problems.

Take care It’s tempting to forget personal needs during the harvest rush. But mistakes can slow or end work … and cause injuries. It’s vitally important to stay alert and on top of the job at hand. Be sure to:

  • Get adequate sleep so you stay alert while working with dangerous equipment. Remember that your life—and the lives of those who work with you—depend on it.

  • Take regular breaks for eating, drinking, clearing your mind and stretching your legs.

  • Avoid alcohol and drug use.

  • Use extra caution around children. Those ages 19 and younger are more susceptible to getting worn out.

Prepare for action Performing routine maintenance before heading to the fields can prevent mishaps. Be sure that all family members and farm workers know the basics of harvest safety, including the location of shut-off switches, power lines, first aid kits and emergency numbers. Someone should also be assigned to check on fields, equipment and—most importantly—the field workers, to be sure that all is well during the grueling harvest hours.

On your preharvest checklist, be sure that these tasks are completed to aid in keeping everyone safe:

  • Mow around storage bins and other high-traffic areas.

  • Add gravel to the driveway.

  • Inspect foundations and seals of bins.

  • Control late-season weeds to reduce machine plugs.

  • Check the operator’s manuals for preharvest machine maintenance information and a refresher for all operators on how to safely and effectively use equipment.

  • Ensure tractors have a rollover protective structure (ROPS) and seat belts.

  • Place a reflective slow-moving vehicle (SMV) sign on the back of equipment driven on the road.

Start your engines There’s no way around it: farm machinery poses a serious danger. Tractor deaths account for more Iowa farm fatalities than any other source. During harvest season, farmers have a greater risk of injury because they use a variety of machines, some of which may only be used once a year and are not as familiar.

Some basic precautions can help avoid accidents:

  • Don’t wear any loose items like strings, shoelaces and jewelry.

  • Be aware of any difficult areas in the field and pay close attention to your equipment and techniques in those areas.

  • Avoid leaning over or resting on moving parts like power take-offs, belts or pulleys.

  • Stand around moving parts as little as possible to reduce your chance of slipping into a dangerous area.

  • Do not remove protective shields and guards from any equipment; they are there to protect you.

  • Human reaction time is usually slower than a machine's movement. Cut the power and stop the engine before you attempt to clear a plug.

  • Regularly clean the steps and platforms of machinery to prevent falls.

Respond to emergencies When an accident or injury occurs, every second counts. First aid and CPR training for everyone on the farm can be a lifesaver, as can having a cell phone available to call for medical and emergency assistance. It’s also important to be able to assess dangers such as whether a fire will lead to an explosion and knowing when it’s best to get away quickly. With preparation and care, farmers can ensure the harvest produces thankfulness for continued health and prosperity.

ISU Extension offers free safety brochure downloads on a variety of farm safety issues

  • Reduce farm injury risks on roads

  • Harvest safety yields big dividends

  • Evaluate equipment for dangers

  • And more … Find a variety of other Safe Farm brochures under the Related Products section at the ISU Extension store


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