9 Farm Safety Tips for a Successful Harvest

For many, the farm is a way of life, handed down through generations. Part of having a successful farm is putting safety at the top of the priority list.

Your farm means the world to you, and while bottom line is important, it’s about more than that. Managing your risks and reducing losses can have a positive impact on everything you do. It’s always a great idea to review your farm safety protocol to make sure you’re following best practices. Our tips give you a starting point for your harvest. Working smarter, not harder is the way to reap rewards!

Ventilating silos. Many tower silos are oxygen-limiting by design. So for safety’s sake, ventilate your silos for at least 30 minutes before anyone enters. Beyond that, keeping the ventilation system working optimally is essential for storing your grains. The following tips can help you with that.

  • Check the temperature. Even if an automatic grain thermometer is present, routinely checking by hand in a variety of spots gives you a more accurate temperature range.
  • Proper fan. Ensure that your fan or blower is the right size for your silo and the amount of grain you store. The right ventilation leads to maximum nutrition, longer shelf life and less profit loss.
  • Working slides. Routine inspections ensure that inlet and outlet slides are in proper working order to avoid cross-contamination.
  • Routine cleanings. Removing excess material build-up is key to discouraging infestations.

Supervise young people. Safety for children on the farm should be a top priority. Whether they’re workers or visitors, underage people should always be supervised. Part of the fun for visiting children is helping with chores and interacting with animals. Don’t shy away from telling them how something works and what dangers there might be. Knowing what dangers exist satisfies their curiosity so they’re less likely to explore on their own. One approach to managing all underage people on the farm is to come up with age-appropriate activities so they can be helpful while staying safe.

Always wear safety gear. No matter what you’re doing, make sure you’re wearing the appropriate safety gear to avoid preventable injuries and accidents. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) states that many farm and ranch injuries could be prevented or lessened if the correct personal protective equipment (PPE) was used. While having the right equipment on hand is the first step, using it is the key. Identify hazards on your farm or ranch and then determine if you need PPEs from the following categories.

  • Eye and face protection. Look for things that might be hazardous: flying particles, metal or sparks, liquid and gas chemicals, caustic liquids and light radiation from welding. In some situations basic goggles will work and in others a full face mask is the best choice.
  • Hearing protection. While loud noises are the most obvious hazard, high pitches can do damage, too. Having simple earplugs at hand gives you quick and easy protection, but prolonged tasks with loud equipment might be more comfortable with well-fitting earmuffs.
  • Respiratory protection. If inhaled hazards from vapors, mists, particulates, pesticides or gasses are present, then a breathing apparatus is required for safety. These can range from inexpensive disposable masks to personally-fitted respirators which can be used for years.
  • Hand protection. On a farm or a ranch, hands come in contact with a number of potentially dangerous tools and materials. Always use the appropriate hand protection when dealing with sharp objects, abrasive surfaces, temperature extremes and chemicals.
  • Head protection. Protecting your head is different than face protection and is designed to prevent injuries from falling objects, low-hanging areas, electrical hazards and chemicals. Baseball caps aren’t appropriate head protection and they don’t offer the same level of safety that hard hats do. If chemicals are involved, a specially designed chemical-resistant hat might be the best option.
  • Foot protection. Steel toed boots are often used on a farm or ranch for protection from rolling or falling objects and piercing. But don’t forget about electrical hazards and chemical or liquid exposure. There are boots designed for each of these situations, which makes determining the hazards you’ll be exposed to key in selecting the appropriate footwear.

Wheel blocks. Making wheel blocks or chocks a habit when unhitching wagons and carts from tractors turns this safety step into an easy-to-remember part of the process. Remember to use blocks specifically designed for the vehicle and for the appropriate size and weight. Keep a set with the vehicle so you’re sure to always have them.

Watch your step. A farm is no place for distracted walking. Pay attention wherever you go and emphasize to everyone that it is never safe to step across a rotating power shaft. According to the National Agricultural Safety Database, power take-off (PTO) injuries are very common on a farm. Heeding safety precautions around these rotating power shafts can help prevent those injuries. In addition to never stepping over a power shaft, it’s a smart idea to check older tractors and equipment to ensure that PTO shields are in working order and have effective coverage.

Tractor safety. All drivers should be familiar with the equipment they’re operating. A tractor safety refresher may be necessary, especially if there’s new equipment on the farm. These are some basic tips that everyone on the farm should practice when working on and around tractors.

  • Know the machinery. Read the operators manual before using the tractor. Practice driving it and using special features so when it comes time to work you feel confident and skilled.
  • Use roll-over protection. If your tractor came with roll-over protection, leave it as-is for optimum safety. If it didn’t, consult with a professional about having this safety feature installed.
  • Use seatbelts. When you’re operating the tractor, use your seatbelt and never let anyone ride of the fenders, hitches, attachments or implements.
  • Know the area. Anticipating changes in the terrain, bumps and bends helps you be a better and safer driver.
  • Start smart. Never start an engine in a closed shed or garage to limit exposure to carbon monoxide.
  • Cool down before filling up. Always let the tractor cool down before adding fuel or coolant.
  • Motor off. Never leave an unattended tractor running. Disengaging the PTO before exiting should also be top of mind.

Safety on the road. If tractors and other equipment will be on roadways, then adhering to these farm equipment road safety tips is best protocol for everyone involved.

  • Use SMV signs. Slow moving vehicle (SMV) signs should be used when you’re driving a vehicle that can’t keep up with 25 mph on a public roadway. Make sure it’s on the rearmost vehicle if you’re hauling something so it’s clearly visible to traffic coming from behind.
  • Mark your equipment. Use reflective tape and flashing lights on the outer edges of your equipment, especially if it extends further than normal, to make it more visible. As always, lights on for safety.
  • Check lights and reflectors. It’s not uncommon for farm equipment and tractors to pick up dirt and mud. One quick safety walk around the vehicle, wiping off reflectors and lights, and you’re good to go.
  • Space out traveling equipment. If a caravan of equipment needs to move across a roadway, it’s safer to space out travel times. This makes it easier for other drivers to pass and prevents frustration.
  • Avoid rush hour. This is a win/win. Rush hour drivers don’t experience long waits when they’re already in a hurry and farmers have less traffic to worry about.

ATVs and other vehicles. All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) can be very useful on farms and ranches, they also pose some risks. Check out the OSHA ATV safety publication if you’d like to know more and to learn how to have employees safely and responsibly use ATVs. The following tips provide a great starting place for practicing ATV safety.

  • Safety features. Motorcycle-type handlebars provide the best steering control. Large, low-pressure tires give you more stability and traction. And the seat should be designed for a single worker and configured so the driver straddles it.
  • Pre- and post-ride checks. Always perform safety checks of the tires, controls, cables, lights, electrical system, oil, fuel and chain or driveshaft before and after each use. Keep a checklist handy so nothing is missed and employees are held accountable for safety reviews.
  • Training first. Never allow anyone to drive an ATV without proper training. If you’re an employer, make sure there’s an owner’s manual handy or that each employee has their own copy. Check to see that everyone who uses an ATV knows how to change gears and park with the parking brake. They should also be made aware of the terrain and any hazards they may encounter when driving.
  • Safety gear. The all-important PPE should be available and used every time an ATV is operated. Having personal protective and padded clothing that is designed to fit the driver will also help in the event of an incident.
  • Public roads. Sometimes a farm or ranch ATV will need to cross a public road. Everyone should understand their obligations when on the road and practice safe habits.
  • Load and weight considerations. Check manufacturer’s guidelines for your ATV so you don’t exceed weight suggestions. Then use appropriate attachments and equipment, check tires and keep the ATV evenly balanced.

Dress appropriately. There are a lot of moving parts on a farm and loose clothing can easily get snagged and caught. Don’t forget to consider the task at hand - since you may need additional protective gear to be most productive. Before you get dressed, consider these tips.

  • Watch for hoods and strings. While baggy clothing is obviously not a good idea around equipment, don’t forget that things like hoods and drawstrings can get tangled in equipment too.
  • Sun protection. Closely woven fabrics offer more sun protection than looser knits, but why stop there when you can get clothes designed for sun protection? Look for high Ultra Protection Factor (UPF) ratings. UPF is like the Sun Protection Factor (SPF) you are used to in sunscreens but UPF relates directly to a fabric’s effectiveness against both ultraviolet A and B light.
  • Reflective clothing. While reflective clothing might not be necessary all the time, it’s sure useful if you’re in a field during hunting season or working near traffic.
  • Resistant clothing. Whether the task at hand requires chemical-resistant clothing or fire-resistant protection, knowing what hazards you might encounter helps you plan accordingly.

Safety matters to you and everyone who plays a role in the success of your farm or ranch. By taking all the steps you can to ensure you have a safe farming environment, you’re doing what you can to blanket your operation in protection.

Want to be even more proactive? Connect with your American Family Insurance agent to learn more about farm and ranch insurance and to give your policy a check-up.

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Related Topics: Farm Safety , Farm Insurance