Follow these steps for a safe harvest this fall

Mike Opperman
Farm Journal
It's important that the people responsible for operating equipment either in the field or on the road understand the importance of safety.

As fall approaches farmers will be hitting the fields to start harvest. The combination of heavy equipment, tired and stressed workers and the push to get crops in quickly can lead to safety shortcuts and potentially dangerous situations. 

It's important that the people responsible for operating equipment either in the field or on the road understand the importance of safety. Cornell University and the New York OSHA Work Group offered a list of items to cover with your employees to help them stay safe this harvest season. 

  • Document and retain a record of all safety training with dated sign-in rosters. Discuss farm specific safety concerns and other issues: narrow roads, soft shoulders, main highways, traffic, spilling silage or tracking mud on roads, etc.
  • Review rules of the road and set expectations of professional behavior- no aggressive driving, follow speed limits and other traffic rules, specify best routes and alternatives to reduce neighbor irritation. Beware of complacency- the 22nd time at the same stop sign can get boring, but you still need to stop!
  • Recognize that farm consolidation can result in increased truck traffic and this can affect the surrounding community. It is more important than ever to find ways to reduce community impact. What can you do to reduce noise level coming from trucks? Equip with proper muffler systems, limit engine braking in residential areas, consider covering loads, especially when routes run through communities, have equipment on-site to regularly clean road surfaces when mud is tracked out of fields. 
  • Though farms are not required by law to cover trucks loaded with farm products, be cautious when transporting uncovered farm products. If something does fly out and cause damage or injury, you may have other liability even if it is not a technical violation under the cover rules. 
Make sure workers get a good night’s sleep. Tired operators are more likely to make mistakes and especially so when combined with complacency.

Employee Safety

  • Make sure workers get a good night’s sleep. Tired operators are more likely to make mistakes and especially so when combined with complacency. According to research, most people require eight to nine hours of sleep per night for optimal performance. Too little sleep, especially over consecutive nights, will result in impaired function and significantly reduced reaction time.
  • Carry water and snacks/stay hydrated. Take breaks periodically. 
  • Stay in communication, let others know of hazards when they are observed. 
  • Stay off cell phones while driving. Hands-free cell use is legal, but can still be a distraction. 
  • Stay in trucks or equipment when waiting. If personnel must exit, contact other operators.
  • If personnel are on the ground, they should never walk out in front of or behind any machine or truck without first making eye contact with the operator. 
  • No extra passengers unless in training. 
All tractors and machinery that travel less than 25 mph on public roads need to have a properly mounted Slow Moving Vehicle (SMV) emblem.

On the road

  • Make sure lighting is adequate for all work performed after sunset.
  • Moving poorly marked or lighted equipment at dusk is especially dangerous. Use an escort vehicle to reduce risk. Lights can get dirty or muddy with field use, check lights before leaving fields and clean them if necessary. 
  • All tractors and machinery that travel less than 25 mph on public roads need to have a properly mounted Slow Moving Vehicle (SMV) emblem. These signs need to be clean and not faded, must be mounted in the center of the rear of the machine (or as close to the center as possible), and be 2’ to 6’ above the road surface. 
  • Completely shut down machinery when clearing debris. Remove and pocket the ignition key so no one can restart if you are not visible. Machinery that is shut down for service can be tagged out at the steering wheel, as “Do Not Operate”.
  • Make sure that staff use the proper personal protective equipment, such as hearing protection in noisy areas. 
  •  Ask farm staff for ideas to improve safety in your operation. 
  • Ensure that all employees who are operating equipment and trucks have the correct licensing requirements to do so. They may need an Endorsement on their license or CDL depending on the weight and type of vehicle. Ensure DOT numbers are up-to-date as well.
Check over machinery and equipment, including trucks that will be traveling public roads.

Pre harvest

  • Check over trucks and equipment, ensure tires are at proper inflation and have adequate tread, change excessively worn tires. Check if all lights are functioning, and recheck each day before work starts.
  • Trucks need to be equipped with fire extinguishers and safety triangles or flares. Provide fire extinguishers on larger tractors and self-propelled harvesters and be sure all operators know where they are located.
  • Make sure road safety features meet the legal requirements. 
  • Check field entry routes for wash outs and culvert problems, and clearly mark entries when road ditches exist adjacent to culverts. Also check road slope and grade to ensure drivers safely turn in and out of fields to decrease any instances of overturned vehicles and equipment. 
  • Check common routes for road crew activity or other new issues. 
  • Provide hi-visibility clothing or vests to staff to help prevent run over incidents.
  • Daily: remind drivers, packers and chopper operators to be safe, use safety belts and take no unnecessary risks. Check for any road weight restrictions and any overweight permits that may be needed. It doesn’t hurt to chat with your local highway department about when you may be harvesting and moving on roadways. 
A tractor works on a growing feed pile of corn silage. Packing tractor(s) should be ROPS equipped, operators belted in.


  • If new silage is being added to old silage, mark where the two materials are joined: the joint areas can be very unstable during silage removal and can collapse without warning because the silage will not be interlocked at this point. 
  • Do NOT put new silage on top of existing silage that has a plastic covering in-place; although this may seem in the best interest of forage quality, it can result in excessive hazard of face collapse during feedout. Extra caution is warranted with any activity in these areas. 
  • Pile height should not exceed the reach of the unloading equipment. Filling staff should be told the target pile height.
  • Packing tractor(s) should be ROPS equipped, operators belted in. 
  • Rollover hazard is obvious. Side slope steepness is an important safety concern. There are many factors that influence safe operating gradient. Minimize lateral side slopes as much as practical and strive to be less than 6:1 sideslope. Beware of soft spots. 
  • Safest packing is achieved when driving up and down the pile. Some references suggest no more than a 3:1 slope in the direction of travel for this type of operation. As your farm changes, please consider how to size and organize bunker silos so that pile height and slope allow packing equipment to drive safely over all sections of the pile. 
  • Only the most experienced equipment operators should pack. Provide new packing operators with proper training.
  • Due to tip-over hazard, for hydraulic dump bodies, NEVER back up onto the pile to dump. Rather, dump in pre-designated areas to avoid truck/packing tractor collisions. 
  • Inform all staff that only authorized personnel should be in the silo filling area, extra people should be kept out. Make sure appropriate signage such as “No unauthorized personnel” and “Danger” is posted visibly.
Conduct safety meeting before going up onto the piles.

Covering crew

  • Conduct safety meeting before going up onto the piles. 
  • Designate those that will work near the edge, all others stay away! 
  • Make sure workers are not wearing slick surface shoes. 
  • Remind workers to watch out for each other and no horseplay on top.
  • Long handled tools could be used to push plastic and tires out to the edges on horizontal silos with walls.
  • Make sure to examine tires as they are laid out on the bunks as some may have metal sticking through which can be harmful to both humans and cattle. Properly dispose of tires that may pose a safety hazard. 
  • Consider having short end-of-day meetings to celebrate work accomplished and review any observed or perceived safety issues.

“Reprinted by permission of Farm Journal media, September 2019”

The original article appeared on the Farm Journal website.