Fall Harvest Safety: Stay healthy, stay safe this harvest season!

Timing is everything with the fall harvest and Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate, adding even more pressure to a short window of time that can make or break the year.  When the pressure is on there are some key points to remind yourself, your family, and your employees to make for a safe and productive harvest.

Roadway Safety

The majority of roadway accidents involving farm equipment happen at dawn and at dusk.  The combination of farmers coming and going to fields, peak traffic times for the public, and low light conditions all create a perfect storm.  Some important things to consider;

  • Ensure all equipment is properly placarded with a DOT slow moving vehicle sign and appropriate yellow warning lights. The WI DOT provides an excellent quick resource to determine what safety precautions are required for your situation.
  • If possible, have someone follow in a truck equipped with yellow warning lights to act as an escort vehicle. The escort vehicle should maintain a safe following distance behind the equipment to provide the operator with a buffer from other vehicles approaching too closely.

Do you have a tractor that isn’t equipped with rollover protection?  Did you know there is a rebate program that will cover 70% (up to $865) for the purchase and installation?  For more information, visit the National Farm Medicine Center Rollover Protection Structure (ROPS) Rebate Program.

Proper Rest and Nutrition

The short window for harvest makes for long work days that blend one right after the other.  Taking short breaks to get out and stretch, as well as ensuring that adequate time is taken to sleep is essential to a safe harvest.

Operator fatigue is one of the biggest contributors to injury and property accidents involving farming equipment during the harvest.  When we push the physical and mental limits of our body, we are limited in our reaction speed and our decision making.  Various NHTSA studies over the past 10 years have attributed driver fatigue as the cause in 30-65% of accidents involving commercial motor vehicles.

Another key to limiting operator fatigue is ensuring good nutrition.  Eating small amounts of food continuously throughout the day instead of a couple of larger meals will help your body regulate energy levels better.  Ensure you are drinking plenty of water, not just coffee and soda, to stay hydrated.

Hazardous Energy Control – Lockout / Tagout

Lockout / Tagout (LOTO) is a process to ensure that before working on equipment, that all potential energy sources have been isolated and rendered inoperative.  Potential energy sources include electrical power, hydraulic pressure, pneumatic pressure, thermal energy, gas (energy potential as well as oxygen displacement or toxicity), gravity, or mechanical (springs, belts, and other moving parts).

NEVER work on equipment until it has been completely powered down, pressures bleed off, and all parts have stopped moving.  Take measure to secure the power sources involved to ensure the equipment can’t be accidently or intentionally started while servicing it.  Once these measures have been taken, attempt to restart the equipment to ensure it can’t be done.  On pieces of equipment using hydraulics to move parts, use blocks to secure these components so after the equipment is powered down, it does not unintentionally move parts when pressure has been bled off.

Communicate what you are doing to others onsite to ensure someone doesn’t inadvertently place a piece of equipment back into service before its ready.  Before restarting, ensure that everyone is clear of the equipment.  When working with grain elevators, conveyors, or other fixed equipment, use padlocks and tags to secure power sources.

Above all make sure that when equipment is in operation, all appropriate guards are in place.  Those working around moving equipment (including PTO driving equipment) should not wear loose fitting clothing.

Hay Fires

Ensure hay is within the proper moisture content ranges based on type of hay and baling method.  Bales should be periodically probed to test for above normal temperatures.  Temperatures up to 140°F degrees are acceptable, however once temperatures exceed 150°F degrees further steps should be taken to provide better air circulation.  Once temperatures exceed 175°F degrees, a fire is imminent or already present near the probe.  Call 911 and have the fire department on hand BEFORE moving hay bales.  Temperatures in excess of 200°F indicate a fire is present at or near the probe.  NEVER walk on top of hot bales, cavities may have developed inside of the bales from the fire creating a potentially fatal collapse situation.


Contact your local Rural Mutual agent today for additional tips and farm safety resources. Farming traditions run deep in the state of Wisconsin and farm safety is a priority for farmers. Rural Mutual has been protecting farms across the state for over 80 years. We also believe in protecting the families and children in our farming communities. Learn more about our farm insurance.