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Published on August 24, 2015

fall harvest

Stay Safe This Harvest Season

Across the region, farmers will soon begin putting in long hours to harvest their crops. Preparing equipment, combining fields, hauling grain and driving to and from fields leaves little time for anything else — especially an accident.

Farming is ranked among the world’s most hazardous professions. Factors like long hours, little sleep, dangerous equipment, poisonous chemicals and uneven surfaces add to the risk.

“Farms are big operations, leaving room for many risks for accidents,” said John Travnicek, MD, Emergency Medicine Physician at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Health Center. “Being aware of the major risks as well as some general farm safety rules is a good starting point.”

A few of the most devastating farm accidents are:

  • Overturned tractors
  • Auger mutilations/amputations
  • Grain bin suffocation
  • Chemical poisoning
  • Child accidents/deaths

10 tips for safety

Below are 10 basic safety rules that can help prevent an accident, illness or death from occurring on the farm.

  1. Slowly drive the perimeter of the field to familiarize yourself with any slopes, drop-offs, stumps and large rocks.
  2. When driving a tractor, take turns slowly. Don’t allow the tractor to bounce, which may cause you to lose control of steering.
  3. Ensure protective shields are in place before running an auger, and keep the floor around the auger swept clean of debris and fallen seed to prevent falls.
  4. Never enter a grain storage unit when grain is coming in from the sides or top. If you must enter a storage unit, wear a safety belt attached to safety lines.
  5. When handling chemicals, always wear the proper personal protective equipment, such as chemical-resistant gloves, overalls, masks and goggles.
  6. If your teenage sons or daughters help out on the family farm, assign them low-risk tasks. In other words, harvest may not allow you to properly supervise their work in more challenging tasks.
  7. Get enough sleep. Being tired reduces alertness and ability to think clearly. If possible, ask neighbors to help you complete tasks and harvest fields. Remember to return the favor.
  8. Eat balanced meals and keep a jug of water with you at all times. Hunger and dehydration are distracting.
  9. Avoid doing tasks alone, such as running an auger or filling a grain bin.
  10. Always carry your cell phone with you. Keep it charged as much as possible.

“Nobody plans on having an accident — that’s why they’re called ‘accidents,’” said Travnicek.

In addition, if you experience possible signs of a heart attack while harvesting, don’t wait, call 911 immediately:

  • Chest discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  • Discomfort in the upper body: in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Other symptoms such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness

While chest pain is the most common symptom of heart attack, women can experience a heart attack without the chest pressure. Instead, they may experience shortness of breath, pressure or pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen, dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, upper back pressure or extreme fatigue.

“Harvest is a critical season, and it’s very typical for farmers to put their work first, and put their own health on the back burner. But lives are irreplaceable. Therefore, safety must be top priority for farmers, ranchers and hired hands at harvest season, and all year around,” Travnicek added.

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