The harvest season is upon us. In this column, I am sharing safety tips for farmers and for rural motorists.

Farmers

Start your safety program by reading the operator manuals for all the equipment you will be using. Proper operation, maintenance, and safety are all outlined in the operator manual.

Slow-moving vehicle (SMV) signs and proper lighting are an absolute for road transport. Never use white lights on the rear of the tractor when driving on public roads. If you don’t have a rear red light, have an escort vehicle follow within 50 feet of the tractor.

Do not by-pass seat belts, interlocks and safety bars. Put equipment in neutral or park, engage parking brake and turn off the engine before dismounting. Wait until all mechanisms have stopped moving before attempting to service or unclog a machine. Locking hydraulic cylinders or supporting the header with blocks prior to working under it is always recommended.

Limit riders on equipment! Instructional seats are designed for training or diagnosing machine problems. Keep all guards in place. Be sure to take breaks, drink plenty of fluids, have snacks and get enough sleep. Fatigue, stress, medication, alcohol and drugs cause you to not focus on tasks. Take time to thoroughly train all operators to safely operate the equipment.

In a study of nearly 9,000 grain combine fires in the U.S., it was reported the majority (41.3 percent) were caused by crop residue. Crop residue and dust accumulate on engines through the cracks and crevices of the combine. Managing this is key to decreasing the risk of fire starting on the combine. When it comes to preventing combine fires, there are the three things to remember: prevention, preparation and practicality.

Prevent: keep the machine clean. Power-wash the machine to remove caked-on grease, oil and crop residue. During harvest, frequently blow dry chaff, leaves and other crop materials off the machine. Remove any materials that have wrapped around bearings, belts and other moving parts. Eliminate poorly shielded exhaust systems surfaces, exposed electrical wiring, worn bearings and belts that can generate enough heat to start dust and crop residue on fire.

Prepare: keep fire extinguishers on hand. You should have at least one fully-charged, 10-pound ABC dry chemical fire extinguisher with an Underwriter’s Laboratory approval in the combine cab. Mount a second, larger fire extinguisher on the outside of the machine that can be reached from ground level. Have a cell phone with you and have a plan. Turn off the engine, get the fire extinguisher and your phone. Get out and get help.

Practicality: get out of the combine. Call 911 before beginning to extinguish the fire. Approach the fire with extreme caution. Small fires can flare up quickly with the addition of air (by opening doors or hatches). If fire begins spreading in the field, try to contain it. This may include tilling a strip around the fire to create a barrier. Combines can be replaced!

Motorists

Slow down immediately when you first see farm equipment ahead of you on the roadway. Farm equipment usually travels less than 25 miles per hour. It takes less than seven seconds for a car traveling at 55 mph to crash into the back of a tractor 400 feet away.

Be patient and wait for an opportunity to safely pass farm equipment. The tractor or combine operator will probably be aware of your presence and will try to accommodate motorists if possible, as traffic begins to back up. Drive defensively when approaching oncoming farm equipment. Impatient motorists may pull out suddenly to pass the farm equipment and enter your lane.

For more information, email Paul C. Hay at phay1@unl.edu, call 402-223-1384 or visit the website at gage.unl.edu and Twitter: @Cloverhay.

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