Farm Talk

Area Farm & Ranch News

June 11, 2013

Harvest safety

Parsons, Kansas — If we get a little stretch of warm and sunny weather, it won’t be long before many of you are out on your combines harvesting wheat. When you add harvest to all of your other work — finishing up planting, trying to get some double-crop beans in the ground, and maybe some haying — it makes for an extremely busy time of year. You don’t need me to tell you that we must be extra careful during harvest season to avoid accidents and injuries — but I’m gonna do it anyway.

Most serious farm injuries — and often most farm deaths — involve machinery and equipment. Part of the danger is the stress, fatigue, and time pressure of planting and harvesting. In fact, these factors may explain why some research suggests farmers are more likely to be hurt by falling off their combine than by getting entangled in the machine itself.

At harvest time, even simple combine operation and maintenance can mean mounting and dismounting the machine dozens of times a day. That can be tiring in itself. Plus, ladders and platforms often get slippery with crop residue, dust or mud. The top of most combines is 12 to 14 feet off the ground, that means most operator’s platforms could represent a 7- to 8-foot fall.

To make it through harvest time safely, you’ve got to stay aware of how well you are doing personally. You’ve got to remember the everyday kinds of risks. Sometimes, a 15- to 20-minute break to wipe off the ladder and have a cup of coffee could make all the difference in how safe you are for several hours.

Another risk factor, however, is that farmers may use some of their most dangerous equipment only a few days per year. Some harvest and grain storage equipment may not be part of regular machinery maintenance and probably has not been used since last fall. Simply because you don’t use it as often as some of your other equipment, you also may not be as familiar with the equipment or its limitations. You won’t automatically follow safety measures. In fact, you probably won’t remember all the potential hazards because we tend to only read the operator’s manual when equipment is new to us or when an adjustment is needed.

At the same time, farm operators work around powerful equipment year-round. And that creates yet another risk factor: We get too comfortable, even over-confident.

None of us is as young as we used to be, and human reaction time slows down with age. Physical condition makes a big difference, too. Make no mistake though, no one’s reaction time is fast enough to avoid accidents with farm machinery while it’s running. No one can beat gravity if they’re under something heavy when it falls.

Average reaction time is about three-fourths of a second. Research engineers estimate that’s how long it takes:

•A loose bootlace to get pulled 4.95 feet into a moving belt and pulley.

•An arm to get wrapped 5.35 feet around a power take-off shaft.

•A sleeve to wind 7.5 feet along an auger.

•Equipment to fall 9 feet and hit the ground — and/or an over-confident farmer.

Remember, manufacturers install safety guards for very good reasons. They write operating manuals for good reasons, too. Most farm accidents are preventable if you don’t let time pressure and stress spur you to bypass or ignore safety procedures. In other words try not to come down with a bad case of the “Gotta Goes!”

For more information feel free to contact Wildcat Extension District agent Scott Gordon in Independence by calling (620) 331- 2690 or by email at You may also contact Keith Martin in Altamont - (620) 784-5337,; or Josh Coltrain in Girard - 620-724-8233, . We also offer programs in Family Consumer Science, 4-H and Youth, and horticulture. Program information and additional contacts can be found on our Website www.wildcatdistrict. £

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