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Stay Safe During Harvest

Updated: Aug 18, 2023

Harvest time is a dangerous time. Follow these tips around electrical lines and equipment, and be careful of possible entanglements or falls.

combine in a corn field
Keep equipment at least 10 feet away from power lines – above, below and to the side – a 360-degree rule. Image: Safe Electricity

Harvest tragedies can happen from a variety of dangers. Power lines and electrical equipment are a hazard, and other accidents occur from falls and entanglements. According to a 2017 report by the Iowa Department of Public Health, about 500 Iowans report injuries from farm machinery, tractors and falls each year. Nearly half of these injuries occur during the harvest season, from August through November.

Keep your eyes open and your brain in gear to avoid the ever-present hazards of working with farm equipment.

Electric lines and electrical equipment Each year, dozens of farm workers are killed and hundreds are injured in accidents involving power lines and electrical equipment, according to Safe Electricity.

As farm equipment gets larger and taller, power lines are harder to avoid. Failure to notice them can be deadly. Safe Electricity lists these precautions:

  • Review with all workers the farm activities that take place around power lines. Inspect the height of farm equipment to determine clearance. Keep equipment at least 10 feet away from power lines—above, below and to the side—a 360-degree rule.

  • Use care when raising augers or the bed of grain trucks around power lines. Always lower augers before moving them, even if it’s just a few feet, and use caution when raising the bed of a grain truck. Variables like wind or uneven ground shifting weight can combine to create an unexpected result.

  • Use a spotter when operating large machinery near power lines. Do not let the spotter touch the machinery while it is being moved anywhere near power lines.

  • Don’t raise any equipment such as ladders, poles or rods into power lines. Remember, non-metallic materials such as lumber, tree limbs, ropes and hay will conduct electricity depending on dampness, dust and dirt contamination.

  • Never attempt to raise or move a power line to clear a path!

  • Don’t use metal poles to break up bridged grain inside bins. Know where and how to shut off the power in an emergency.

  • Use qualified electricians for work on drying equipment and other farm electrical systems.

  • Know what to do if the vehicle comes in contact with a power line: Stay on the equipment, warn others to stay away and call 911. Do not get off the equipment until the utility crew says it is safe to do so. If there is a fire or risk of a fire, jump off the equipment with your feet together, without touching the ground and vehicle at the same time. Then, still keeping your feet together, hop to safety as you leave the area. Don’t touch the equipment again.

Entanglements and falls Did you know that the most frequent way people are injured on combines is by falling off the equipment? A free downloadable ISU Extension Safe Farm publication, “Harvest Safety Yields Big Dividends”, notes that such falls occur because the driver is often up and down the combine dozens of times a day. With the height of combine tops (12-14 feet off the ground) and operator’s platforms (6-8 feet above the ground), a tumble can cause real damage. And if the ladders and platforms are painted metal, they may be slippery, especially in mud, rain, snow or ice.

To reduce falls:

  • Keep platforms free of tools and other objects.

  • Frequently clean the steps and other mounting, dismounting and operating areas.

  • Wear footwear with non-slip soles.

  • Use grab bars when mounting or dismounting the equipment.

  • Make sure your position is stable before working on a machine.

  • Recognize that fatigue, stress, drugs or alcohol and age may affect stability.

Entanglements can happen in a heartbeat, and most operators overestimate their ability to react quickly to problems involving the intake area of the equipment. If a worker tries to unplug a stalk in a live cornhead, the snapping rolls can pull in the stalk and the operator’s arm and hand into the machine in the same amount of time it would take for the operator to release the freed stalk.

To avoid entanglements:

  • Always disengage power and turn off the engine before trying to manually clear a plugged machine.

  • Never try to pull or remove twine or wire from a bale case or knotter when the baler is in operation, and never try to feed twine by hand. Even on idle, twine can move through a baler faster than you can react.

  • Keep protective shields in place to prevent slips or falls near the intake area.

  • To decrease plugged machines, keep machines maintained, control late season weeds and operate equipment during optimal conditions.

  • Before harvest, check your operator’s manuals for maintenance suggestions. Replace any broken, worn or dulled components.

For more important safety tips from ISU Extension, read a 2022 blog post titled 6 Simple Tips for a Safe Harvest This Fall.

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