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Fall Harvest Safety

A flurry of activity, weather conditions, long hours, and large machinery combine to make the fall harvest a potentially dangerous time. Operator stress or errors are the cause of most harvest accidents. 

Kent McGuire is an ag health and safety coordinator at Ohio State University. He says to remember that YOU are your most important tool, so know your limits both physical and emotional, and take care of yourself.

“To reduce fatigue, try to get enough sleep. That’s your body’s time to rest. Pace yourself and plan your day out the best you can, and take short breaks throughout the day,” says McGuire. “Take five minutes to get out of a piece of equipment and take a short walk, or just something to get your mind and your body away from the piece of equipment to recharge yourself, and minimize that fatigue factor.”

While you’re walking around, McGuire says to look over the machine for any trouble spots. But make sure everything is in place before you hop back in the seat.

“Doing some of those maintenance checks and removing guards and shields, make sure that you put those guards and shields back on after you’re done inspecting or doing some sort of maintenance on the equipment,” he says. “Those guards and shields are there to protect you and anybody who might be working around the piece of equipment.”

There is probably a crew of people helping in the field, so pay attention to your surroundings and any individuals walking around. Also, keep a jug of water with you to stay hydrated and have someone bring you healthy meals and snacks to boost your energy.

During harvest, mold spores, gases, and other organic dusts are hazardous to your health if you breathe them in. 

Ken Hellevang is an Extension ag engineer at North Dakota State University. He says breathing in grain dust is often an overlooked hazard. Tiny particulates can settle deep inside the lung when you breathe them in and make you ill.

“A lot of farmers have developed some sensitivity to grain dust because of exposure over the years, and they need to be protecting themselves so the sensitivity doesn’t increase,” he says. “If there’s been any kind of mold or disease activity that has occurred, that increases the importance of respiratory protection.”

Hellevang recommends a mask that’s rated either N-95 or N-99. It should be printed somewhere on the box or the mask. These will give you more protection than a standard face mask. 

“One of the simple ways I differentiate is that all of the N-95 or better masks will have two straps,” he says. “If you find one that just has a single light strap, that’s typically just a nuisance mask that’s intended to keep out large pieces of sawdust or something like that.”

The mask should be fitted tightly to your face. If there is a nose piece with a metal clip, form it around your nose. 

OSHA considers sound measured at 85 decibels or higher to be damaging to the eardrum. A tractor without a cab can reach 100 decibels. Ear protection devices are ranked with a noise reduction rating. An NRR-31 rating means that noise will be reduced by as much as 31 decibels under ideal conditions. So, at a 100-decibel sound level, the plugs would reduce the effective sound level to 69 decibels.

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