Agriculture is a hazardous occupation, and machinery is the No. 1 risk for accidents, says Tom Karsky, Extension Farm Safety Specialist at the University of Idaho.
“Review the owner’s manual if you haven’t used a machine for a while, like at the beginning of the season. While working on a piece of equipment, always turn it off so you won’t get tangled in moving parts — unless you must leave it run to do some trouble-shooting,” he says.
Fatigue can also be a safety issue on the farm.
“Get plenty of rest. Take breaks when working long hours. If you feel drowsy, take a few breaks rather than try to push through to get the job finished. Short, frequent breaks can keep you from dozing off or not being fully alert,” Karsky says.
In hot weather, drink plenty of fluid. Heat stress is a risk. Air conditioned cabs help, but some tasks leave you out in the sun or in a super-hot environment if a cab doesn’t have air conditioning that works. It is important to stay hydrated.
“Do the maintenance required to keep equipment working properly and safely. Repair something after it breaks down, rather than just a temporary fix to get by. Replace guards or shields after they’ve been removed to work on machinery. Sometimes PTO shields get damaged and lose their effectiveness. Those should be replaced,” he says.
When working around fast-moving parts, be careful about what you are wearing.
“Shoe laces, strings on a hooded sweatshirt, or loose clothing may get entangled in the PTO or other moving parts,” Karsky says. Often it’s the clothing that is grabbed.
“If you are working with a loader, keep it low when moving the equipment. Driving with the loader up raises the center of gravity; the machine is more at risk for tipping over,” he says, adding that a raised loader is also more likely to hit a power line.
“Power lines can be problems with loaders, augers, bale elevators, combines or anything that sticks up very high,” he says. “If there’s a power line in your barnyard, try to work around it so you don’t have to go under it.”
A power line to a barn or shop may be lower than the regular power line.
Sometimes when a problem occurs with machinery we do things we shouldn’t, thinking we can fix it quickly, like climbing up on a bale wagon to rearrange bales that didn’t stack correctly, while the machine is running.
“It takes time to turn it off, and people think they can do it in a hurry. You may get away with it for a while but sometime not,” he said. As farmers get older, reflexes, strength and balance aren’t as good.
“The risks we took when we were younger are more dangerous now,” he said.
“When somebody new is operating equipment, teach him how to operate it properly, and go with him for the first hour or two — especially if there is some little quirk with that particular machine. It may work fine for someone who is using it all the time and knows how to deal with that quirk, but if another person doesn’t know that you have to push a lever forward instead of back, it may cause an accident.”
Be aware of where other people might be.
“Don’t allow riders on farm implements unless required for operation or training. Never allow children to ride on or walk near moving implements, trailers or wagons, and never allow anyone to walk closer than 6 feet of any harvesting equipment that is running,” Karsky said. “A little foresight and paying attention to what’s happening around you can often prevent a farm accident.”