Farming is a hazardous occupation, especially during planting and harvest when time pressures force growers to spend more hours in the field.

As Iowa’s growers prepare for the 2017 harvest, Dan Neenan of the National Education Center for Agricultural Safety (NECAS) in Peosta offers some specifics to improve farm safety this year.

Even before the combines roll, Neenan urges growers to build safety into their "to do" checklists.

"I think the first thing to take a look at is the machinery, making sure that all the safety guards are in place," he begins.

"Check the lighting and markings on the equipment to make sure it’s visible for when you’re on the roadways. As the days get shorter and harvest pressure increases, we need to make sure we’re as visible as we can possibly be."

First aid kits essential

Neenan also reminds growers to have first aid kits in place and take a look at all their fire extinguishers and make sure they’re fully charged.

Another recommendation reflects the changing structure of farming in Iowa.

"In an emergency, you used to be able to call for help, say ‘this is the Jones farm,’ and everybody knew where that was," Neenan explains.

"Now many farmers rent or own ground that’s not next to the home farm. It’s true we can still use GPS to locate a cell phone, but that takes time, and time is what you don’t have in an emergency."

He recommends having the address of every farm you own or rent programmed into a cell phone and posted in the cab of every farm vehicle.

"If the dispatcher has an address, it cuts down the time for help to get there. Just keep the cell phone charged and with you."

Health concerns

During harvest, the extra long hours can increase risk especially for growers taking some medications – for example, for diabetes.

Neenan explains that many medicines are timed with eating, so someone who takes his medicine but skips eating can face problems.

"They need to make sure they’re taking breaks, getting out of the cab to stretch. They need to take mental breaks too, absolutely," he says.

"I know farmers wake up with 100 things to do on the check list, and if everything goes just right, they may complete 30. But if things go wrong, if a belt breaks and you have to take the safety guard off to replace it, you have to have safety in mind.

"It just takes a minute to put that safety guard back in place, and that’s what could save you from having a finger cut off," he says.

Staying safe on the road

Throughout harvest, Neenan is concerned about rural roadway safety — an issue, he says, for farmers and the general public.

"Fall is a very dangerous time, with very large equipment on the roads, and if it’s full of grain, it may be moving at only 12 to 15 miles per hour. And you’ve got the motoring public that’s always in a hurry.

"And if you’ve got someone texting out there, they’re going to close the distance to the farm equipment out ahead very quickly."

There’s further risk from people trying to pass equipment, especially when equipment is turning into a field or farm gate, and from the number of blind intersections with limited visibility.

"There’s a dual message for the farmer to be aware and for the public that we have to share the road," he says.

For more safety information, see the NECAS website:

Munro is a freelance writer in Windsor Heights.