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Remember "safety first" during busy harvest time

BLOOMINGTON, Ill. — A farm safety fact sheet from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) begins by stating: “Contrary to the popular image of fresh air and peaceful surroundings, a farm is not a hazard-free work setting. Every year, thousands of farm workers are injured and hundreds more die in farming accidents.

“According to the National Safety Council, agriculture is the most hazardous industry in the nation.” This is especially true during the harvest season.

Alexandrea Williams, public safety specialist for COUNTRY Financial, wants to remind farmers to remember safety first. “Harvest is here – that means farmers are already moving equipment on roads, harvesting their crop and hauling it to elevators.

“Over the next few weeks and months they’ll be working longer hours, starting their days before sunrise without resting until long after sunset. The pressure to keep going can be intense and this can lead to accidents, injuries and even death.”

Taking time to keep a few things first and foremost can help keep farmers and those working and traveling around them safe. Following manufacturers’ recommendations on machinery, OSHA says, can help reduce accidents with equipment and machinery.

According to the federal Department of Labor agency: “Most farm accidents and fatalities involve machinery. Proper machine guarding and doing equipment maintenance according to manufacturers’ recommendations can help prevent accidents.”

OSHA advised farmers decrease risk by increasing their awareness of farming hazards and making a conscious effort to prepare for emergency situations including fires, vehicle accidents, electrical shocks from equipment and wires and chemical exposures.

“Be especially alert to hazards that may affect children and the elderly. Minimize hazards by carefully selecting the products you buy to ensure that you provide good tools and equipment. Always use seat belts when operating tractors, and establish and maintain good housekeeping practices,” it added.

Some of the other safety advice includes:

•Read and follow instructions in equipment operator manuals and on product labels

•Inspect equipment routinely for problems that may cause accidents

•Discuss safety hazards and emergency procedures with workers

•Install approved rollover protective structures, protective enclosures or protective frames on tractors

•Make sure that guards on farm equipment are replaced after maintenance

•Review and follow instructions in material safety data sheets (MSDS) and on labels that come with chemical products – and communicate information on these hazards to family and other farm workers

•Be sure farm workers who speak little or no English also have access to safety information and training in their primary language

Often family farms use the assistance of older and young workers, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the biggest sources of youth ag-related deaths include – from the highest percentage to the lowest – machinery, motor vehicles and drowning. While drowning doesn’t play into harvest (except a form of drowning in grain bins from grain instability), the other two do.

Many farmers are harvesting with farm equipment that includes a semi or two-ton grain truck. Sometimes underage drivers are helping out on a family farm, and this can lead to injury, especially when farmers are rushing to get the crop done.

“Farmers are always anxious to get their crops out. They work on tight deadlines, are often up against poor weather and numerous other setbacks. It can be frustrating – but they need to remember to take care of themselves,” said Eric Vanasdale, senior loss control representative at COUNTRY Financial. “Accidents happen when we’re tired, distracted, stressed and rushed.”

Country has a few tips to add to OSHA’s list that, while they are basic common sense, are easy to forget in the rush of harvest:

•Avoid driving machinery on roads at dawn and dusk

•Tell family and helping hands where you’ll be working and when

•Communication is a key element if an accident happens; keep a cell phone or two-way radio near at all times, and keep your electronics charged and on the ready

•Plan to communicate at set times of the day to ensure everyone is safe and okay

Even the most seasoned of farmers often disregard the advice to get plenty of rest and take frequent breaks. “Drink plenty of fluids frequently and have healthy snacks on hand to keep your energy levels up. Accidents are more likely to happen once fatigue sets in,” Williams cautioned.

For those on medication, she said to be sure to know if it is safe to mix your prescription medication with heavy equipment. “Some medications and machinery don’t mix. Consult your doctor if your medications make you feel drowsy or impair your ability to safely operate your equipment,” she explained.

In central Illinois, the dry weather has made combine and field fires a daily occurrence. To help prevent this, “Keep combines and tractors clean and lubricated. Avoid fires by cleaning off your equipment each day and following the manufacturer’s lubrication schedule.”

 These are just a few of the things farmers can do to put safety first. To learn more, talk with your local extension office or go online to