Safety during Harvest

For many Wisconsinites, autumn is a time to enjoy the beautiful leaves, dig sweaters out of the closet, and enjoy pumpkin-flavored treats. To a farmer, autumn means harvest time, one of the busiest times of the year. Unfortunately, more farm accidents happen during the fall months than at any other time of the year. Even small adjustments can go a long way in preventing accidents and injuries.

Exhaustion is a large reason for accidents during the harvest season. Farmers often get fatigued, leading to a lower level of alertness. Farmers start working early in the morning and often work past sunset. They have to work around the weather, which might mean working long days before the rain comes. While working these long days, it is even more important to eat healthy and stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. If working alone, taking breaks and getting out of the tractor to walk around every few hours is important for mental clarity, and the physical change in position combats fatigue and keeps blood circulating.

Photo credit:

When machinery is functioning properly, the risk of accidents decreases. Check hoses and filters and sharpen knives before starting harvest to ensure the machinery is in prime condition. Consult the operator’s manuals and perform any recommended maintenance and repairs. All guards and shields should be in place before operating. Reduce the risk of falls by keeping steps clear of debris, dirt, and grease. If possible, always use handrails when entering and exiting a machine. Make sure all headlights, flashing lights, and warning lights are working properly to be ready for roadway travel after sunset.

Grain wagons and bins are an essential, but dangerous, part of harvest. According to researchers at Purdue University, more than 900 cases of grain engulfment have been reported, with a fatality rate of 62% in the past 52 years. One way entrapment occurs is when wet grain forms a crust on the surface. While the bin looks like it’s full of grain, the crust can collapse; the farmer falls in and is trapped. Grain can also crust on the surface over open spaces. A farmer’s weight can be enough for the grain to collapse and trap the farmer. If entering a grain bin is essential, do not be alone. Have at least one other person, preferably two others, outside the bin ready to help in case of entrapment, which can engulf a farmer in less than a minute. Around grain, too, breathing may become difficult because of the dust. To prevent future breathing difficulty, always wear a dust filter or mask. Always turn off unloading augers before entering, and never allow children in grain bins or wagons.

Combine fires can cause devastating damage and injuries. Keeping wiring and fuses in good operating condition and proper positioning of wires can help prevent fires. Regular inspection of fuel lines and wiping up oil and fuel spills also decreases the risk of fires. Never fill up with gas while the engine is running, or while smoking. Pay attention to the exhaust system by checking for leaks, damage, or an accumulation of crop residue. Always have at least one fire extinguisher on the equipment. If possible, keep an extinguisher where it can be reached from inside the cab and another that can be reached from the ground.

Finally, always remember to turn off the machine before fixing or servicing it. Whether getting out to switch drivers or unclogging something that got stuck, turn off the entire motor. Trying to unclog something without turning the motor off can lead to amputations of hands, arms, or feet.

Harvest activities are dangerous because they involve powerful equipment that is often operated during a time crunch. Taking a few extra minutes on safety precautions while harvesting will save you money spent on injuries and accidents, and it may also save your life.

–Anna Gries, AgrAbility Program Assistant



Grain Bin Safety Week:

University of Illinois Extension: Agricultural Safety and Health:

Ag Web: Top Tips to Prevent Combine Fires:

Penn State Extension: Guarding Against Corn Harvesting Accidents: