Farming is considered one of the most dangerous occupations in the world. This is primarily because of the lack of regulation concerning safety policy that is typically enforced at any other public or private organization.
Machine operation, suspended loads, moving parts, sharp surfaces and enclosed space are situations farmers and employees encounter each day. Most farms have no written procedure for when to utilize safety equipment including head, hands, ear, eye, feet or lung protection. It is up to the individual to determine the risk of the activities they will encounter and if they are willing to spend time or money necessary to make the experience safer. Add young children to the environment and there is an elevated risk of injury or death simply due to lack of maturity and/or understanding of the risk of the situation.
The third week of September each year is National Farm Safety Week. The week coincides with the start of the Midwest grain harvest, drawing attention to the risks associated with harvest activities and the caution necessary to keep you, your family and employees safe. It is impossible to remove all risks but it is important to pause for precautions that can reduce the possibility of injury.
Moving harvest machinery on roadways is the one activity that not only endangers the operator but motorists as well. It is very important to use escort vehicles when possible and activate lights and warning lights on the equipment. New machines have the rearview cameras but installing systems on semi-trucks, grain carts and combines is a safety investment. They are a supplement for mirrors when moving on roadways and in the field.
Take time to stop and observe your machinery a few times each day to avoid a fire. The sense of smell usually detects heat problems before they are seen. It is a good idea to keep fire extinguishers in all vehicles and keep a water nurse wagon close to the combine this fall. Being able to apply some water in an emergency might keep a fire from getting out of control.
I think all would agree some courtesy provided to motorists approaching or following is expected but you are not required to pause, allowing cars to pass in no-passing zones. From the height of a combine or tractor cab, you might be able to see the road is clear of oncoming traffic but the following vehicle does not have your vantage point. Do not put them in a position of passing with uncertainty in an effort to get them to their destination a few seconds sooner.
There is probably nowhere more dangerous at harvest than being in or around the grain drying and storage systems. Over the past 15 years, there has been a major remodel and upgrade of most on-farm systems to match larger harvesting capacity. This upgrade resulted in new and safer technology but climbing heights, exposure to dust and noise is still part of the process. The time to wear a safety harness to prevent a fall is any time you are climbing to the top of an elevator or bin. Certainly, do not enter a bin without a spotter. An enclosed space with a floor of entrapment potential grain is an extremely dangerous environment to be alone. Storage capacity is an important part of a grain marketing plan but the few cents it will pay to carry to January is not worth a life.
The last point and sadly one that has claimed too many lives in recent years is ATV use on public roads. This includes four-wheelers as well as multiple passenger utility vehicles. Injury, or worse, is to be expected when one of these vehicles leaves the road or collides with traffic. Riders rarely use seat belts, which would greatly decrease the likelihood of injury in the UTV. Operators should always activate headlights, which greatly increases their visibility to other traffic.
Another dangerous activity that has increased with the popularity of residential zero-turn mowers is the belief that it is safe to allow children to ride as a passenger while mowing. Allowing a passenger in any activity that involves revolving blades will rarely provide a second chance if the unthinkable occurs.
Clint Hardy is the Daviess County Cooperative Extension Service agent for agriculture and natural resources. His column runs weekly in the Agriculture section.