Ohio State University

Fall Harvest Requires Increased Focus on Safety


Source: Ohio State University

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Working long hours without an adequate amount of sleep is just one example of how farmers can increase their risk of injury during harvest, a safety expert with Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences said.

Knowing some simple safety precautions to take during harvesting is critical for farmers to reduce the potential for injuries, said Andy Bauer, an Ohio State University Extension agricultural health and safety professional. OSU Extension is the outreach arm of the college.

Harvesting is a time when farm workers are continually moving from one piece of equipment to another, Bauer said.  This is a time when farmers should take extra precautions to prevent falls when working around farm equipment and in the fields, he said.

“Harvest is a time that involves long hours and working with several different types of farm equipment simultaneously to achieve the same goal -- completing the harvest,” Bauer said. “As a result, farmers put in long hours, day after day and that’s when fatigue and stress can set in.”

The combination of fatigue and stress can result in the increased potential for injuries, he said.

“The weather this fall has created harvest delays which creates stress on the farmer,” Bauer said. “As a result, we are working constantly and are less likely to take breaks because we’re trying to get the harvest done.

“Other stressors farmers face could be worries about the grain market prices, including concerns that maybe they didn’t sell enough grain ahead of time and may worry now about not getting optimal prices for grain. Or if they need to store grain at the elevator, will they be able to cover the storage charges.”

The additional stress could cause farmers to focus less on safety and lead to agricultural-related injuries, he said.

Every day, about 167 agricultural workers suffer a lost-work-time injury, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Five percent of these injuries result in permanent impairment. And in 2012, 374 farmers and farm workers died from a work-related injury, resulting in a fatality rate of 20.2 deaths per 100,000 workers, according to the government agency.

Most equipment-related accidents on the farm are due to farm tractor rollovers, according to the Farm Injury Resource Center. The center said other equipment-related farm injuries include: being caught in running machinery; highway collisions between farm equipment and other vehicles; being struck by falling machinery parts; and equipment contacting overhead or underground power lines.

Slips, trips and falls from farm equipment are also a concern, Bauer said. And those can be prevented if farmers take precautions, he said.

Precautions in preventing farm-related injuries should include:

  • Maintain three points of contact when climbing on and off equipment.
  • Avoid jumping off the last step.
  • Look for uneven elevations or rough terrain where you are stepping.
  • Make sure handholds, railings and steps are in a good safe condition and repair if not.
  • Keep walkways clear and watch for uneven walking surfaces or changes in elevation.
  • Be careful in the field for rough ground, rocks or harvest debris.
  • Lift objects with your legs not your back.
  • Get help for heavy objects.
  • Don’t try to lift things from an awkward position.
  • Clean air filters on cabs of equipment.
  • When operating an open-station piece of equipment wear a dust mask to protect your lungs.
  • Try to keep the tractor, combine, truck, or other such equipment with a cab in good repair so you don’t have to operate it with windows or doors open in dusty conditions.
  • Get a good night’s sleep every night to keep from being too tired.
  • When working long continuous hours in equipment, stop, get out and walk around to stretch your legs and muscles every hour or two.
  • Check the equipment you are using to be sure everything is in good working order.
  • If you get too tired, or are having trouble staying awake, stop for the day or take along break and let someone replace you for a while.
  • Change tasks on a regular basis if possible.

“While the ultimate goal is for farmers to get their harvest done, we want to make sure they are safe and have a safe final harvest,” Bauer said.

For more information on agricultural safety issues, contact Bauer at 614-247-7681 or

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