By Tina Snell, Staff Writer
As farmers across rural areas in Minnesota and more locally, Morrison County, begin their fall harvest, drivers need to be aware that an increase of slow-moving farm equipment will be on the roads.
Farm Safety and Health Week, Sept. 16 – 22, is an annual national event to create awareness in and around all types of farm machinery, whether it’s on the farm or elsewhere.
“During fall and spring harvest, there is an influx of farm equipment on the roads,” said Darrell Larsen, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency executive director in Morrison County. “Anyone driving needs to be on the lookout for machinery on the roads. Slow down when approaching slow-moving vehicles, wait for a safe place to pass and always avoid using a cell phone while driving.”
Larsen said that rural Minnesota has an incredible amount of farm equipment, both on and off the roads. Everyone should be able to recognize those vehicles, slow down in a timely manner and proceed with caution.
A pet peeve of Larsen’s is when farmers don’t use their safety flashers or slow-moving vehicle signs to help others recognize the danger.
“Don’t expose yourselves to a liability,” he advises farmers. “Another option would be to have a vehicle follow the farm equipment with its flashers on to alert other drivers.”
Larsen reminded farmers it’s a Minnesota law to use slow-moving vehicle emblems on equipment traveling less than 30 miles per hour.
In spite of driving slowly, “Farmers tend to be in a rush. They use powerful farm equipment and need to slow down and pay attention to the safety information provided,” said Larsen. He said operator manuals and warning decals should be read and understood, especially when the equipment is new.
“Each time it’s used, equipment needs to be inspected and any hazards corrected,” he said. Be aware of pinch points, shear points, wrap points, pull-in areas, thrown objects, crush points, stored energy hazards and freewheeling parts. He also said bolts should be continually checked and tightened if necessary, especially with used equipment. And, check that shields over moving parts are in place.
Another good practice is keeping bystanders and others away from all equipment operation areas. And never allow extra riders, especially children.
“It breaks my heart to hear about a child injured or killed when it could have been prevented,” said Larsen.
Farmers work with large amounts of grain, silage and hay during the harvest season. Automated equipment has made material handling fast and easy. But, grain storage structures and equipment create hazardous work areas. Those working with grain need to take proper steps to put safety first and prevent injuries, illnesses and even death.
The USDA recommends locking entrances to grain handling areas to keep adults and children out and never enter a bin that is being loaded or unloaded. Flowing grain can trap and suffocate a person in seconds.
Whenever possible, install ladders inside the bins and wear proper dust-filtering respirators when working in and around grain handling areas. High amounts of dust and molds could be present and possibly dangerous.
When handling livestock, Larsen said one of the most important items to have is a good animal pen with an exit area or gate to stand behind for protection.
“Always know where to exit,” he said. “It’s possible an animal will turn on the handler if they are being moved to an unfamiliar area. Workers need easy access to a safe area.”
Animals may be unpredictable. They may be protecting their young, they may have fear of a new area or they may decide to flee an unfamiliar situation.
“Also, don’t get into their personal space it they don’t know you,” said Larsen. “With dairy animals, watch the bulls for they may be more unpredictable. With beef cattle, be more aware of the cows with young.”
Agriculture is one of the most dangerous jobs a person may have. It is physically demanding and can consist of long hours. The Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) recommends getting plenty of rest at night and taking many short breaks during the day.
Another good example to follow is eating properly. Fast foods, candy bars or other sugary items should be limited. The MDA recommends waking up a few minutes early to eat a good breakfast and pack a healthy lunch with several servings of fruits and vegetables. They provide a sustained supply of energy instead of a quick fix.