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Prevent accidents by focusing on safety during busy harvest season

URBANA, Ill. – A long stretch of clear skies is great news for Illinois farmers who are busy clearing fields during the fall harvest. It also means they may be working long hours more days in a row, which can increase risks for burnout, injury, and stress.

“Farmers are in the field a little earlier than most years,” says Josie RudolphiUniversity of Illinois Extension associate research scientist. “We have had a stretch of favorable weather. Without a rain day, farmers are spending many consecutive days in the field.”

Harvest is often characterized by early mornings and late nights, and a lack of rest may add to accidents. Rudolphi says that getting proper rest can make a huge difference in staying safe, but during the time crunch of harvest season, farmers sacrifice sleep to work late into the night.

To prevent fatigue, farmers and agricultural workers should eat protein-packed snacks, not junk food, to maintain energy throughout the day. Drink plenty of water, do not just rely on caffeinated drinks. If possible, take short naps, frequent breaks, and energizing walks. 

For a safe harvest, Illinois Extension recommends also performing routine maintenance, checking for electrical hazards, testing and repairing vehicle lights and signs, watching for overhead electrical hazards, and managing stress.

When the season gets busy, routine housekeeping is typically the first to fall off the to-do list. Test that all machinery lights work and if any reflectors or slow moving vehicle signs need to be replaced. Also, take time to clean equipment.

“Layers of dirt or dust can obscure the driver's view especially at sunrise and sunset, so take time to clean all cab windows," says Rudolphi.

Combine fires are one of the most common and expensive types of fire incidents in production agriculture. They can also cause substantial setbacks during harvest.

Prevent debris fires by frequently blowing off debris with a portable leaf blower or air compressor, and inspect the engine compartment where chaff may have accumulated around bearings, belts and other moving parts. Check fuel or hydraulic system lines before harvest and replace any leaking, cracked, or worn-looking lines.

When in the field, keep an eye out for power lines, which are a threat to tall or extended farm equipment. Be aware of overhead power lines and plan a safe route. Survey the environment before beginning work, taking note of power lines and their location before moving any equipment or extending augers.

“Always work with a spotter when operating large machinery near power lines," Rudolphi says. “Never attempt to move a power line out of the way or raise it for clearance.”

Learn more about electrical hazards during harvest season from Safe Electricity.

When driving on public roads, avoid heavy traffic times.

“Since many non-farm drivers are unfamiliar with the size and maneuverability of farm equipment, operators should use their hazards and turn signals diligently,” Rudolphi says. “When yielding to oncoming traffic, slow down and be aware of soft shoulders.”

Learn more about sharing the road safely from Doug Gucker, Extension local foods small farms educator.

Harvest is a stressful time; there is a lot to get done in a short amount of time. At the end of the season, take time to review what pinch points happened and how they can be prevented before harvest begins next year.

SOURCEJosie Rudolphi, University of Illinois Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering Assistant Professor; Extension Specialist
WRITEREmily Steele, Media Communications Coordinator, Illinois Extension

ABOUT EXTENSION: Illinois Extension leads public outreach for University of Illinois by translating research into action plans that allow Illinois families, businesses, and community leaders to solve problems, make informed decisions, and adapt to changes and opportunities.