Due to slow maturing, the harvesting of corn, soybeans, and other crops will probable all occur at the same time for the 2004 harvest season. The stress and rush of harvest time can be a recipe for disaster. Couple the stress with the size, power, and moving parts of a combine, the need is for a good safety program and procedures during harvest season.

The combine is among the most dangerous machines on farms in South Dakota. Agricultural Injury Surveillance Statistics collected as recently show that the combine, grain auger, and tractor were the machines most involved in South Dakota agricultural injuries.

Farmers and agricultural equipment operators should think ahead to establish safety procedures that prevent injuries. The key to prevent disasters during the harvest rush is to establish good habits and think through potential hazards.

Hazards include:

  • Becoming entangled with the leveling or discharge augers in the grain tank;
  • Falling from the combine;
  • Contacting overhead power lines;
  • Being run over;
  • Contacting the knife, reel or stripper rotor;
  • Contacting the straw chopper or spreader;
  • Being trapped under the header or injured by the header falling from its transport trailer;
  • Being injured by the drive mechanisms;
  • Dust;
  • Fires;
  • Noise.

Several combine safety procedures include:

  • Set aside time to properly prepare the combine for harvest. Rushed repairs may lead to injuries.
  • Conduct a safety check before taking to the field. Replace all guards and shields that may have been removed. Replace or repair all lights that don't work -- especially transport lights, such as headlights and taillights.
  • Examine fields for hazards such as erosion washouts and other surprises that can develop during the growing season. Alert other workers to those hazards too.
  • Adjust and service the combine as directed in the operator’s manual. There are usually some adjustments that need to be made while the machine is running, but others should be done with the machine stopped and the key removed from the tractor or the combine's ignition switch. Remember the hazards posed by straw choppers and spreaders - allow adequate run-down time before approaching the rear of the combine.
  • Always refuel the combine or tractor after it has cooled. Fuel vapors can easily ignite on hot engine and combine parts. Refueling accidents are a major cause of combine fires.
  • Make sure there is suitable fire-fighting equipment (e.g., a fire extinguisher) available on the combine. The extinguisher should be regularly checked and assessable from the ground.
  • Grease and check the combine in the morning while when your mind is fresh. Put the ignition key in your pocket while you are working on the combine so no one can start it or the tractor up while you are working on the machine.
  • Check hydraulic leaks carefully. Use a piece of cardboard, wood, or sheet metal to detect leaks. Hydraulic oil under high pressure can easily be injected through the skin and result in serious medical problems.
  • Drive the combine only while you are alert and aware of your surroundings. Hours of steady operation can lull you into a hypnotic state. To avoid this dangerous situation, schedule a break for all workers every two to three hours. Change jobs with someone else who can operate the combine for a while.
  • Use the safety stops on the header lift cylinders when working under the header. Don't trust hydraulics with your life.
  • Keep your distance from other vehicles and machines. Combines need a lot of room to maneuver and have large blind spots. Always be aware of the location of other equipment.
  • Move combines from field to field only during daylight. Driving combines on public roads after dark can be very risky. The size of a combine, coupled with its unfamiliar shape and lighting pattern make it a dangerous hazard on the road after dark.
  • To control dust and noise, always operate with the cab door shut. Exposure to high levels of grain dust causes ill health, including occupational asthma, Farmer’s Lung, grain fever, chronic bronchitis, allergic eye and nasal infections.