Staying Safe During Harvest

Combine harvesting at sunset

Staying Safe During Harvest

We have started harvest across the state and the famous words of “Be Safe!” are being said as loved ones walk out the door. We are also reminded on the radio or social media to “slow down” with all the machinery on the road and not being fully aware when or where they are turning.

These are all great comments and thoughts as we start our day; however, when we are in the heat of harvest, stress levels are high and with little sleep, accidents still happen.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 368 farmer and farm workers who died from work-related injuries in 2020. This translates to 18.0 deaths per 100,000 workers. Transportation incidents are the leading cause of death for these farmers and farm workers.

Roadway Travel

To put in perspective how quickly drivers come onto farm equipment, if a vehicle is traveling 65 mph, and a combine is half of a mile ahead and traveling at 15 mph in the same direction, it would take 36 seconds for your vehicle to meet the combine. When we cut that distance to a fourth of a mile, it only takes 18 seconds. With all the potential distractions drivers face on the road, it is easy to understand how an accident can occur. Here are some tips to keep everyone to safe.


  • Verify that all lights and flashers on your farm equipment are working properly.
  • Use warning flashers, flags, lights and slow-moving vehicle emblems on all equipment.
  • Apply reflective tape to machines to improve visibility to motorists at dust.
  • Avoid traveling after sunset and times when more traffic is expected, such as the start and end of school days.
  • Avoid parking on roadways, but if it’s necessary to do so, be sure proper safety lights are used.
  • If it’s muddy, clean tires and equipment well enough to avoid leaving mud on the roadway.
  • Be mindful of the height of your farm equipment and avoid power lines, low bridges and other overhead obstacles.
  • Check your towed equipment. All loads should be balanced and securely mounted.
  • Transport combine head separately form the combine when moving on a roadway.
  • Use turn signals and hand signals whenever possible to communicate with fellow drivers.
  • Check traffic before turning to assure fellow drivers are not passing you.
  • Avoid driving distractions.
  • Stay aware of fellow drivers.

Auto Drivers

  • Be patient. Harvest occurs during a short period of time. Farmers will pull large equipment to the edge of the road to allow you to pass when available.
  • Farm equipment and tractors drive at a much slower speed, typically between 5-15 mph.
  • Leave as much room as possible when meeting large equipment on the road. If the shoulders are in good shape, use them.
  • Expect large equipment to take wider turns and even travel into both lanes to properly turn.
  • Do not pull out in front of farm equipment and suddenly slow down. Making sudden stops can be impossible due the size of the equipment and potential heavy loads they are carrying.
  • Watch for turn signals, hand signals and other ways a farmer or rancher may try to communicate with you.
  • When passing machinery, be sure to double check for oncoming traffic, slow down and look for turn signals if the equipment has them. Remember that the farmer may be unable to see behind them, making passing very dangerous.

Grain Handling Safety

As crops are being harvested from the field, farmers will be handling and storing this grain at various locations.

According to the 2020 Summary of U.S. Agricultural Confined Space-Related Injuries and Fatalities, there were a total of 64 cases of documented grain storage facility injuries. Out of those 64 cases, 35 were grain entrapments, seven were falls into or from grain storage structures, four asphyxiations due to deficient oxygen levels or toxic environments, and 12 equipment entanglements (involving in-floor and sweep augers) while working around confined grain storage. Beyond injuries related to grain storage facility, injuries also occur around the augers outside the storage facility.

Here are some tips on precautions to take this year:


  • Always lockout and tagout unloading equipment before entering a bin.
  • Never work alone in a bin. Have someone watching who can call for help.
  • Always wear a harness or lifeline. A body harness is the best option because it spreads the force of a fall or a tug of the rope across a larger area of the body. Do not walk down the grain.
  • Never enter a bin while an auger is running.


  • Ensure all warning labels are in place, visible and being followed.
  • Check wire between circuit breakers and auger motor and internal motor wiring for wear and repair if needed.
  • To prevent unintentional grounding, use ground-fault circuit interrupters.
  • Lockout/tagout equipment before servicing.
  • Completely lower portable augers before moving to avoid hitting electrical lines.
  • Check bins for grain condition and heating throughout the storage period.


  • Guards should be free of holes, dents or deformations.
  • Keep hands, feet, hair and clothing away from moving parts of the auger.
  • Avoid wearing loose clothing, jewelry and hair.
  • Shutdown the equipment prior to doing any type of maintenance.
  • Turn augers off when there is a person physically pushing grain out of a truck, wagon, etc. when emptying. If the individual accidentally slipped and fell through the unload gate, they land directly into the auger hopper.
  • Block tires and lock raised beds. Lock hydraulics and mechanisms.


  • Use the “3-4-1 Triangle” for ladders. Extend the ladder three feet above the surface for every four feet of height and place the ladder one foot away from surface.
  • Improve bin ladders by adding cages and raise the bottom of the ladder so children cannot reach the bottom rail.
  • Add handrails at the end of the ladder, which provides easier transfer to the roof. Also, additions of guardrails along the roof ladder if possible.

Grain Dust/Respiratory

  • Have the correct and clean air filters in place in operating combines.
  • Avoid direct exposures to dust whenever possible.
  • Wear a NIOSH-approved and certified “N-95” dust mask.

By following these precautions and slowing down this fall, you can keep everyone safe.


Agricultural Safety, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention., Accesssed Sept. 9, 2022.

Grain Auger Safety, Penn State University., Accessed Sept. 9, 2022.

Grain Handling Safety Coalition., Accessed Sept. 9, 2022.

Human Health Concerns from Grain Dusts and Molds During Harvest., Accessed Sept. 16, 2022. 

2020 Summary of U.S. Agricultural Confined Space-Related Injuries and Fatalities, Purdue Extension., Accessed Sept. 9, 2022.

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