NEWS for North Dakotans
Agriculture Communication, North Dakota State University
7 Morrill Hall, Fargo, ND 58105-5665
April 13, 2000
With the press of field work and preparations for another crop season comes increases in the number of agriculture-related injuries. Planning and precautions can cut your risk, according to an agricultural safety specialist at North Dakota State University.
"The injuries most likely to happen with spring work include sprains, strains, cuts and broken bones," says George Maher of the NDSU Extension Service. "Precautions need to be taken during maintenance and field work with planting and tillage equipment. Hitching and unhitching cultivators and planting equipment, changing cultivator shovels and other tillage tool maintenance are common tasks that present some real threats."
Maher notes that something as simple as how you arrange your equipment in the farmyard can make life easier and safer. "Many fingers, toes and backs are injured while hitching and unhitching tillage equipment. Give some thought as to where to park equipment before unhitching it," he says.
Avoid uneven areas for machinery storage. Equipment may move after being released from the tractor. Machinery with integral hitches, such as three-point, are much easier and safer to attach on level ground. Likewise, equipment is safer to work on and hitch the tractor to while on level ground. Also, jacks and blocking are not as likely to slip.
"Remember that the area between a tractor and the implement is a danger zone for the person who is helping to hitch equipment," Maher says. "It is so easy for a foot to slip from a clutch or brake pedal. The results can be disastrous."
While hitching equipment the helper should always stand to the side of the equipment, stepping between only when the machinery is lined up correctly and the tractor is in park or neutral with the brakes set.
Always use locking hitch pins to keep implements from working loose and causing accidents. Back the tractor up to the machinery in a straight line for simpler and safer hitching.
"If your safety is influenced by hydraulic power or systems, block the machinery in place, very carefully," Maher advises. "Injuries and deaths occur because someone trusted a hydraulic system." Hitch jacks and blocking takes pressure off the hydraulic system making it easier and safer to disconnect hydraulic couplings. Always use transport brackets for cultivator wings while on the road.
Maher says color coding tractor and machinery hydraulic connections can save time and make machinery operation safer. "If connections are consistent, you'll always know exactly how to control the implement and your reaction time may be improved," he says. Red and green or yellow and blue are highly visible color combinations. Be sure to check the operation of the hydraulic controls after the hitching is complete and the helper is out of the way. Correct connections are easier and safer when made in the farmyard rather than in the field.
When disconnecting equipment, support machinery with blocks or jacks. "Letting the implement hitch fall to the ground as you pull away with the tractor will make the next hitching more difficult and dangerous, possibly inviting a back injury. Use wood or metal blocking because concrete crushes easily and unpredictably," he says.
Maher notes that skinned knuckles, cuts, bruises and sprains are not a necessary part of working on grain drills, row-crop planters and cultivators. "When removing cultivator shovels and similar parts it is a good idea to apply a shot of penetrating oil after clearing the soil from nuts and bolts. When installing new cultivator shovels you can protect the exposed threads of bolts by using double nuts to cover them."
Before you pull or push on a wrench, take a moment to see where your elbow or knuckles will go if the wrench should slip. It's usually safer to pull on a wrench than it is to push on it.
"Moving equipment on the road presents special hazards," Maher notes. "Poor visibility, slow speeds and large equipment can make moving equipment one of the most dangerous springtime activities. Consider the risk of moving equipment after dark. Is that risk worth the time you might save?"
A slow moving vehicle (SMV) sign should be mounted on all equipment so it is clearly visible from the rear during travel on roads. The sign is required by law. Clearance lights should also be used.
"When you move farm machinery on the road, be alert for traffic and allow it to pass when it is safe for all concerned," Maher says. "Always maintain safe road speeds so that you can control the machinery and avoid undue wear and tear."
In the field, the opportunities for injury are usually much less, but care is still needed. Watch out for power lines and poles, trees and fences. Don't snag the equipment on the tractor's rear wheels in tight, sharp turns. "Don't let anyone ride with you," Maher says.
"Always shut the tractor engine off and put the key in your pocket before leaving the seat to check on equipment, make adjustments or unplug tillage equipment," Maher says. "You never know when the tractor may slip into gear while you are intertwined in the equipment.
"Often accident victims report that they were taking safety shortcuts to save time during a busy season," Maher notes. "Consider the time you'll lose if you have to seek medical attention or if you're seriously injured or worse. Investing time in planning and in taking precautions can pay some very big dividends."
Source: George Maher, (701) 231-8288
Editor: Tom Jirik, (701) 231-9629