Farming is a dangerous occupation, ranking right behind mining for the highest number
of accidents and fatalities annually. Harvest season can be particularly threatening due
to dangers posed by equipment used, exaggerated by human factors such as fatigue
associated with long days, environmental conditions (e.g., rain, mud, heat, cold, etc.),
and other risks. This SOP provides guidance for reducing harvest safety risk factors.
• Do not rush to complete tasks or take short cuts. Risk of injury increases with
• Stay alert. Get plenty of rest. Avoid long work hours, and working at times when
you’re most prone to fatigue. Avoid medications and other substances that may
interfere with your ability to remain alert and safely operate equipment.
• Shut off all farm machinery before exiting the vehicle.
• Read and adhere to the manufacturer’s operating and maintenance
recommendations, as well as precautionary statements.
• Prior to initiating work, determine if other employees, visitors, or animals will also
be in a field where harvesting equipment will be used. Warn individuals where
harvesting equipment will be used and avoid altering field harvesting plans
without giving prior notice to supervisors or others who might be in the field. It is
the equipment operator’s responsibility to watch for humans and animals in the
field and to avoid injuring pedestrians. It is also important to inspect each field to
detect potentially hazardous conditions, e.g., wash-outs, downed trees, etc.).
• Allow passengers only when the vehicle is specifically designed for such use
(i.e., manufacturer supplied passenger seat).
• Ensure ready access to emergency communication device and a first aid kit at all
• Equipment should be made harvest-ready in the off-season. This includes
thorough inspection for missing covers, guards, bolts; loose handrails or steps;
loose or damaged electrical connections or wiring; worn belts, pulleys, bearings;
etc. This also includes all preventative maintenance at the intervals
recommended by the manufacturer.
• Before performing service, lower the header to the ground, place the machine in
park or neutral, set the brake, turn off the engine, and remove the keys. Observe
all precautions stated by the manufacturer in cases where the owner’s manual
specifies a service or maintenance operation that must be conducted with the
engine running or the header raised.
• Never clear a clogged harvester with the machine running.
• Do not place yourself beneath harvester headers without assuring they can’t
come down. Use the manufacturer’s hydraulic cylinder safety stops, solid blocks,
or other failsafe protective devices.
• Let the forage harvester knives stop rotating on their own before opening the
access doors to work on them. Consider lockout devices to prevent injury from
accidental startup or stored energy.
• Always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations when sharpening forage
harvester knives, or when replacing knives, forage blower blades, or combine
cylinder bars. Be sure to torque the knife, blade, or bar attachment bolts to
• Make the vehicle as narrow as possible by adjusting hitches, folding unloading
augers, or removing headers.
• Ensure that where appropriate equipment bears a bright, reflective slow moving
vehicle (SMV) sign.
• Use warning lights/flashers when possible.
• Signal all turns.
• Observe all motor vehicle laws.
• Don’t drive on the shoulder where terrain may be rough and cause tipping. To
allow vehicles to pass, wait for a safe place and pull off the road and stop. If the
vehicle starts to tip, steering down to the ditch may prevent a complete overturn.
• To prevent loss of control when going downhill, leave harvester in mid range or
low range. Do not put into neutral or leave in high gear.
• Consider having an escort vehicle, especially if the trip requires left turns.
• Be aware that the stability of the vehicle changes as the tank fills with grain. The
center of gravity becomes higher and the vehicle will be more prone to tipping,
especially with high speeds and turns. Do not extend the height of the grain tank
beyond what is recommended by the manufacturer.
• When operating on hills, make wide turns.
• Carry a cell phone or other communication device (i.e., two-way radio) for
emergency use only.
• Do not stand behind or beneath the discharge spout of an operating crop
Falls result in a significant number of farm related injuries. A fall from a combine can be
as much as 14 feet, and may result in serious injury.
• If a machine must be serviced in the field, take time to clean the crop dust and
debris from the steps and platforms, and wear shoes with a solid, slip-resistant
tread. Good traction will reduce the chance of slipping and falling.
• Use equipment step and hand holds, and enter and exit the vehicle in the
manner intended and designed.
• Be extremely alert if working in or after rain. Wet shoes make it easier to slip and
fall when getting on and off the equipment.
Harvesters can be fire hazards. Chaff and other bits of plant material can be ignited by
engine components or from the heat of failing bearings or slipping belts. Reduce fire
• Keeping belts tight.
• Frequently removing dust and chaff buildup.
• Checking bearings regularly.
• Equipping tractors with a multi-purpose (A-B-C) fire extinguisher (5-pound
minimum, 10-pound is better). Consider carrying a 2 1/2- or 5-gallon pressurized
or pump, type A fire extinguisher on combines. These extinguishers are better
than type A-B-C extinguishers on type A fires (chaff and plant material) in windy
Loaded grain wagons will often weigh more than the tractor or pickup truck pulling them.
If a heavy wagon has a tire blowout or running gear failure, it will make control difficult
and can result in a collision or overturn.
• Adjust and maintain the wagon’s steering components to prevent fishtailing or
weaving and the risk of component failure.
• To prevent an individual from being trapped, buried, and suffocated by grain,
make sure no one is in the grain trailer while it is being loaded or unloaded.
• Never load grain wagons beyond the towing capacity of the tow vehicle.
Observe all manufacturer towing recommendations and precautions. When
calculating the tow weight, include the weight of the empty grain wagon. For
example, the total load weight for a grain trailer with a tare weight of 5000
pounds and towing 4500 pounds of corn is 9500 pounds.
• Do not exceed the manufacturer’s recommended towing speed for the wagon or
the tires. Reduce travel speed and use extra caution if the wagon weighs more
than the tow vehicle.
• When purchasing grain wagons, select a model equipped with brakes and lights.
• Tires used for the running gear must be in good condition. Tires with deep cuts
or cracks are blowout hazards and should be replaced. Ensure proper tire
• Use extreme caution when going down a hill or incline, since control is more
difficult under these conditions.
(Created 8/01; Revised 3/04, 9/06, 1/09)
UNL Environmental Health and Safety · (402) 472-4925 · http://ehs.unl.edu