Get the combine ready for a safe harvest
Barton County Extension Agent
June and July are typically two of the most dangerous months for Kansas farmers. That’s because these are the months when harvest-related injuries involving combines and other harvest machinery are most common.
A properly serviced combine is much safer and more efficient to operate. Safe operation and maintenance of combines should not be taken lightly and an organized, methodical plan for preparing the combine is the safest approach. Use the operator’s manual to refresh yourself; do not attempt to rely on just memory for the jobs to be done.
Be sure to give the hydraulic system a thorough pre-season checkup. Leaky hoses and connections are a safety hazard, as well as wasteful of hydraulic oil and energy.
Always use a piece of sheet metal or wood to locate hydraulic leaks, not your bare hands. Hydraulic fluid under pressure can cause serious injury. This type of work also calls for eye protection.
Always use safety blocks or the stops on hydraulic cylinders when working under raised equipment. Combines and combine headers are very heavy, and hydraulic systems can and do fail. When they do, the header will come down quickly without warning.
Most adjustments to combines should also be made when the machine is not running. Be sure to make these adjustments only when the ignition keys are in your pocket.
However, there are some adjustments which need to be made when the combine is running, and the operator’s manual will tell how to do them safely. There are at least two pinch points for every chain or belt drive system. Since belts might be tight, and chains don’t slip, injury is certain when fingers are caught in the pinch points, so be careful. Also, remember to immediately replace every shield or guard that was removed.
Distances can be very close when unloading combine grain tanks on the go. Be sure to safety-check the steering and brake systems. Safe steering and braking are also important when moving combines from field to field.
When harvesting is going to continue into the late night hours, the field lights will generally get maintenance attention, but safety lighting for moving the machinery on the road after dark is also important. Are the flashing hazard lights, clearance and tail lights functional? The SMV (slow moving vehicle) emblem must be visible from the back, as well as the clearance lights to indicate the machinery width.
Many combine fires start with the wiring harness, so check the wiring frequently. Be sure wires are protected by rubber grommets where they pass through holes in the metal. If rodents have chewed on wiring insulation, be sure to replace damaged lengths carefully. Remove and replace only one wire at a time to prevent confusion and mistakes.
A fully charged fire extinguisher and a fully equipped first-aid kit should be on the combine and easily accessible from the ground.
A clean combine or tractor cab is much more pleasant to be in and can make long hours less stressful. Start the season with clean filters and a recharged system.
Also, keep the radio communication system working and up to date to help provide a smooth harvest.
The quality of job you do is directly related to your comfort and safety. Your family will be glad you took the extra time.