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Combine safety begins with the operator

As fall harvest approaches, you may sometimes feel there aren't enough hours in the day to get everything done.

But, all it takes is a single momentary lapse of concentration or focus for the typical day on the farm to turn disastrous.

Despite being the busiest time of year for most farmers, safety awareness on the farm in the fall is more important than ever. Especially when it comes to combines and harvest equipment, according to Dan Neenan, manager of the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety.

Neenan shared ways farmers can improve harvest safety with Agriculture Online during the 2006 Farm Safety and Health Week, this week, Sept. 17-23.

While many potential dangers exist in the machinery itself, Neenan says personal safety, especially when it comes to fatigue, is the most important area of focus in staying safe during the busy harvest season.

"Make sure you take plenty of breaks while doing the field work," Neenan says. "Take time for meals and to get out of the [combine] cab and walk around for several minutes every hour. Make sure to take all of your required medicines every day."

Other combine safety recommendations include:

  • Always make sure the header mechanism is disengaged before approaching to clear debris or unclog it. If in a newer machine that automatically disengages the header when the operator moves from the driver's seat, do not tamper with the shutoff mechanism.
  • Keep two fire extinguishers around the combine's cab: "One in the cab and one mounted on the opposite side of the operator's station," Neenan says.
  • Service your combine well ahead of harvest. Doing so lessens the chances of breakdowns in the field and the resulting longer hours of work, which can lead to fatigue-related accidents.
  • Make sure all safety shields are replaced and secured after servicing the combine.
  • Make sure all lighting and markings on the combine are clean and visible to motorists. "Farmers need to remember that the more visible they are, the faster a motorist can see you, recognize you are a driving a slow-moving vehicle and slow down in time," Neenan says. "Motorists need to remember the fall harvest time as well, know that farm equipment will be traveling on rural roadways and adjust their driving habits accordingly."

Neenan says combine manufacturers are taking operator safety into account with new models, especially when it comes to making the machines more visible on the roadways.

"[Manufacturers] are looking at injury patterns and engineering safety for the new products they bring to the marketplace," he says. "They're not only making more efficient, but also safer machines to operate than earlier models. New machines have better lighting and markings making them more visible when on the roadway."

As fall harvest approaches, you may sometimes feel there aren't enough hours in the day to get everything done.

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