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Make safety part of plan for upcoming growing season

Gloria Hafemeister

ARLINGTON – With the onset of another growing season, farmers are busy getting their equipment ready for the fields and preparing their silos and bins for refilling.

When these routine maintenance and preparation tasks are done, it is important to also consider a safety plan by making sure all guards are in place, equipment is safe, storage structures are safe and lockout devices are readily available and located where everyone on the farm knows how to find and use them.

Whether a farm is big or small, has employees or only family members, the rules of safety are the same. While big farms are required by law to follow certain safety practices, those on small farms also need to make safety a priority.

Shields, left in place at all times, are important in protecting workers from injury but they must be maintained and replaced when necessary and workers still need to pay attention to common sense rules of safety.

Common Hazards

  • Falls and entanglements on farms cause many injuries and deaths every year.
  • Mechanical equipment such as augers and conveyors, present serious entanglement and amputation hazards. Workers can easily get their limbs caught in improperly guarded moving parts of such mechanical equipment.
  • Storage structures can also develop hazardous atmospheres due to gases given off from spoiling grain or fumigation.
  • Workers may be exposed to unhealthy levels of airborne contaminants, including molds, chemical fumigants (toxic chemicals), and gases associated with decaying and fermenting silage.
  • Fumigants are commonly used for insect control on stored grain and many have inadequate warning properties. Exposure to fumigants may cause permanent central nervous system damage, heart and vascular disease, and lung edema as well as cancer. Further, these gases may result in a worker passing out and falling into the grain or off of a platform thus causing injury or death.

In a blink of an eye

Jim Nolte, Safety Director with the Wisconsin Agri-Business Association, says power take off injuries are more common than they should be. He notes, “With a PTO moving at a slow 540 rpm it takes only three-fourths of a second to pull a body five and one half feet.”

PTO's must be shielded and workers should never attempt to step over them while engaged.

He points out that there are numerous potential hazards around the farm and it is important to identify the common sources of hazards and eliminate any that are a potential problem.

Pinch points, wrap points, pull-in points and shear or cut points are all dangerous areas that need to be shielded and workers need to stay away from them.

“In a forage harvester, for instance, it takes three-tenths of a second to pull a hand into the equipment. It will pull your hand in faster than you can let go of the corn stalk you’re trying to put in,” he said.

”Never reach over or around rotating parts. Make sure PTO shafts are shielded. Never step over the PTO. Never operate tractor controls from the rear,” he said, adding that producers should also be mindful of the hazards associated with jewelry, long, loose hair around moving parts and loose clothing or dangling ties or belts.

Regarding conveyors, Nolte saidit's important that sweep augers have a bin stop device and sump holes need to have guards. In fact, guards need to be in place on all equipment that has moving parts, including belts and pulleys, chains and conveyors

"The guard actually needs to provide protection,” he states. “It must cover all parts, protecting around, under, through and over.”

Grates to prevent entanglement or slipping into moving augers are important means of protecting workers on the farm.

He advises farmers to look at their equipment to see if all the moving parts are covered.

"Do not rely on equipment manufacturers to properly guard their equipment. It is the responsibility of the owner to make sure it is protected,” Nolte said.

Silos and grain bins

Nolte stressed the importance of having lock-out equipment on hand and readily available and instructions for everyone to use it before entering any facility or performing any maintenance on equipment in the silo or grain bin.

“It’s the best safety practice for every farm, not just those with 10 or more employees who must do it to satisfy OSHA standards,” he says.  “It will keep others from turning on equipment when someone else is inside.”

He spoke of a case involving a father and son working together on a smaller farm. Dad went inside to maintain a silo unloader and son, not knowing Dad was inside, turned on the equipment.

He stresses that accidents like this can happen easily on smaller farms because jobs are not necessarily assigned but rather each worker performs tasks as they see the need without discussing it with others first.

To prevent such tragedies, Nolte said there are various types of lockout devices including padlocks that he says should be designated only for use in lockouts, as well as circuit breaker lockout devices, plug and valve lockouts.