Preventing Accidents While Harvesting Hay and Forages

Harvesting hay or other forage crops involves many different operations. Because of the many types of machines used, number of people and different operations involved, accidents can and do occur during this busy season.

Causes of Accidents While Harvesting Tractor Overturns – This is the number one cause of injury and death on the farm or ranch. Refer to December 1999 Ag Horizon for detailed safety practices.

Improper Use, Hitching, or Maintenance of Implements – Harvesting forage and hay involves mowers, rakes, balers, stackers, harrowbeds, loaders, and other machines. All have moving parts that can easily entangle a person who comes in contact with them. Improper hitching of the implements could cause the tractor or truck to overturn. Improper maintenance may result in loose parts flying off and striking bystanders or workers. Trying to unclog a machine when it is still running is a major reason for serious accidents.

Working in Unfamiliar Fields – Hitting holes, ruts, or stumps are major hazards.

Unsafe Transport of Equipment – Going to fast, not having clear sight when turning onto the road, failure to have the proper signs and lights, and not driving defensively all contribute to accidents.

Lifting Bales onto a Truck or Wagon – Sudden movements by the truck or tractor can throw workers off balance or cause hay bales to fall off and strike a worker.

Prevention of Accidents While Harvesting

  1.  Remove stumps, stones, or other debris from the field, or clearly mark them. Mark ditches and banks. Some banks are undercut.
  2. Slow down when working on hillsides. Plan harvesting so that equipment travels downhill on steep slopes. Do not make sharp turns when headed downhill.
  3. Keep all shields in place, especially the PTO shield. Keep long hair away from moving parts. Keep platforms clear of debris. Never mount or dismount a machine when it is moving. Make sure all machines are hooked up correctly. Operating a mower or forage harvester at excessive speed can cause machine failure and possible injuries from flying debris if parts fail.
  4. Never try to unclog a machine when it is still moving or in operation. Cutterbars: Stop the tractor and disengage the PTO. Raise the cutterbar and back up. Shut off the engine and engage the parking brake or shift the transmission into park (or neutral). Reels, Crimper Rolls, and Augers: Disengage the PTO and shut off the engine before doing any work on them.  Wait until the part has stopped moving. Back the material out of the equipment to unclog the unit.
  5. The same techniques apply when working on balers and bale handling systems. Disengage the  PTO and shut off the tractor. Wait for the flywheel and other moving parts to stop. Test the bale-knotter by turning the shut-off system by hand to see in slow motion what is happening with the  bale-knotter. Keep hands away and observe.
  6. When loading bales manually, be sure that the driver does not start and stop suddenly.
  7. Block or secure machines such as headers, bars, stackers, when working on them. Block the wheels too.
  8. Keep hydraulic fluid clean and check often for damage to the system. Keep belts and chains in good repair and have the right tension on them at all times.
  9. Be sure the tractor has front end ballast.
  10. Do not eject big bales where they might start rolling. Do not let anyone stand near the rear of the baler when a bale is coming out.

Excerpted from Farm Safety Series PNW 512.

Contact the WSU/Cooperative Extension office in your county to get a complete copy.

Compiled by John Fouts. For more information, contact WSU Extension, (509) 477-2048.

Cooperating Agencies: Washington State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Spokane County Extension programs and employment are available to all without discrimination.