Top harvest priority: Stay safe
Grain harvest is quickly approaching. As we get ready for the season, let’s take a moment to remember the number one priority: stay safe. With Mother Nature often in the driver’s seat, harvest is naturally a stressful and exhausting time. Don’t add to that stress with the tragedy of a severe injury or death. Take a few extra seconds to make sure you and your team are working as safely as possible.
The people factor
All members of your team should be properly trained to run the various pieces of equipment. They should understand and recognize potential hazards and know how to react in an emergency situation. Document this training. As a manager, it’s your job to enforce safety rules. If you see unsafe behavior, address it immediately.
Next, make sure the wardrobe matches the task. Protective footwear with good grips and close-fitting clothes are a must when working around machinery. Wear brightly colored or reflective clothing, especially if you’re working before sunrise or after sunset. Remember to have other safety items, such as protection from noise, dust or other hazardous materials, in-stock and ready-to-use.
Stay healthy and stay alert
When you have a short window for harvest, taking big meal breaks is probably not a feasible option. If you plan to pack a lunch and eat in the field, at least take 15 minutes to step out of the machine, get some fresh air, stretch and relax. Also make sure you drink plenty of water. This will help you maintain your energy level.
Do your best to get adequate rest at night and throughout the day with quick breaks. Drowsiness and fatigue slow down your reaction time in emergencies. Know when you’ve reached your limit and turn over equipment operation to someone else. You might be tempted to slam a cup of coffee or soda and think you’re ready for more, but you can’t rely on these stimulants to keep you alert. If possible, schedule shifts for your team so that everyone has adequate working and resting time.
Perform equipment maintenance now
The first step in using equipment safely is performing necessary maintenance prior to harvest. Fuel and lubricate all equipment now while you can give it your full attention versus rushing through it later.
Of course, it’s likely that you’ll still have to perform some kind of unforeseen maintenance as you go. When you do, make sure all equipment is turned off before you begin working on it. Don’t take a shortcut by trying to unplug a cornpicker or combine rolls while the machine is still running. Use extreme caution when working around belts, gears or power take-offs. Any hydraulically raised equipment should be securely blocked before you work around or under it.
When you have finished the work, double-check that all guards and shields are back in place before you start up the equipment again.
Avoid slips and falls
The risks of high-power equipment often overshadow simple accidents like slips and falls. But remember that these can cause significant injuries as well. Painted metal on ladders and platforms becomes especially slippery in wet conditions. Keep these areas clean and free of tools or other objects. Always use grab bars when getting on or off equipment and remember that fatigue, stress and age all affect your stability and balance.
Take note of the weather conditions
Any type of weather comes with its own inherent risks. Before you head out in the fields, carefully consider what conditions you’ll be in and the hazards they might present.
Fire is always a hazard in the field, but it’s especially so during grain harvest in very dry weather. Always make sure each piece of equipment carries a fire extinguisher. Stay alert for any hot or burning smells.
If we have a cold and icy harvest, remember that these conditions are more likely to clog the feeding mechanisms of pickers and combines. They also create slick road and field conditions. If that’s the case, slow down and carry lighter loads to reduce risk.
Dust and molds are especially challenging if grains cannot fully mature before a frost and the harvest season is wet and cool. Protect yourself by wearing a dust mask that is specifically designed to filter pollen and mold spores. A standard painter’s mask will not do.
A safe harvest is an efficient harvest
We all tend to adopt a “go, go, go!” attitude during harvest. It often feels like we don’t have a second to spare. But remember, taking simple steps to work safely is much more efficient than having to stop completely for an injury or illness. Most importantly, working safely means you and your team can return home to your families at night.
About the author: Scott Hall is the Vita Plus safety director and works to strengthen safety efforts and initiatives at all Vita Plus facilities and trucking operations. He earned his bachelor’s degree in electronics engineering technology from DeVry Institute of Technology and later earned a master’s degree from Central Missouri State University in industrial safety management. After serving in the Navy for six years, he worked in a variety of construction, manufacturing, and engineering safety specialist and manager roles. He has more than 20 years of experience in writing safety procedures, overseeing compliance with occupational safety programs and employee safety training.
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Corn and soybeans