Joe Mlynek, CSP, OHST
HARVEST SAFETY STRATEGIES
Updated: Mar 28
Harvest is the perfect storm, a critical state of affairs with negative and sometimes unpredictable factors including seasonal workers, combustible dust, equipment failure, worker fatigue, and vehicle traffic. While it is difficult to eliminate all of these factors, it is possible to define and implement strategies to control or reduce their impact. Strategies like incident and root cause analyses are good starts, but let's get into specifics.
Harvest often requires the use of seasonal labor. Consider managing the hiring process to allow adequate time for onboarding. Define the scope of the workers activities and train on items including the facility’s emergency procedures, personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements, the hazards of combustible dust, housekeeping procedures, truck dump/receiving operations, and moving vehicle hazards. Additional training may be required if seasonal workers engage in bin-entry, maintenance activities, working at heights, or rail operations.
PPE provides a barrier between workers and hazards. Ensure that there is an adequate supply prior to and during harvest. This may include items such as head protection, filtering face-piece respirators (dust masks), eye protection, gloves, and high visibility/reflective clothing.
Perform scheduled maintenance prior to and during harvest. Scheduled maintenance should focus on critical equipment such as bucket elevator legs, grain dryers, dust collection systems, pressurization equipment, conveyance, and hazard monitoring systems. It is also advantageous to inventory maintenance related parts, equipment, and materials to ensure that adequate inventories are on hand should breakdowns occur.
Dust generation will increase during harvest due to full equipment utilization and increased grain flow. Inspect and clean priority and non-priority areas on a consistent basis and avoid housekeeping techniques that place dust in suspension, such as the use of compressed air, since it will be difficult to shut-down and isolate equipment during this busy time.
The potential for a “struck-by” incident increases during harvest. Ensure that the facility has an effective traffic control plan. Define traffic routes with highly visible signs and instructions. Route traffic to eliminate or reduce the potential for vehicles and workers to cross paths. Consider developing and distributing a driver safety handout covering critical safety requirements such as designated traffic routes, PPE, No-Smoking, driver/vehicle positioning, hand signals (if appliable), cell phone prohibitions, and the facility’s emergency evacuation procedures.
Working longer hours during harvest results in fatigue. Symptoms of fatigue include forgetfulness, apathy, reduced vigilance, poor communication, poor decision making, slower reaction time, and irritability.
Worker fatigue is caused by excessive intensity and duration of physical mental activity, hazardous work environments (noise, heat, dust, traffic, etc.), conflicts with coworkers and customers, long hours, shift work, sleep loss, poor nutrition, and dehydration.
Allow employees to take routine breaks and spend adequate time away from the facility. Focus on improving communication prior to and during the shift. Routinely discuss safety hazards and the importance of maintaining a safe work area, routine hydration, and rest breaks. In addition, allow employees the opportunity to voice their frustrations and concerns.
Routine Safety Training
Resist the urge to delay or eliminate routine safety training during harvest. If delivering classroom training is not feasible, consider having short pre-shift meetings to discuss specific tasks, hazards, and methods to eliminate, control or reduce these hazards.
Harvest is in fact the perfect storm. There is no other time of year quite like it. Consider implementing or improving upon the strategies discussed. Navigating safely through harvest will take effort, communication, and ample planning. The investment is well worth it.
Joe Mlynek is a partner and subject matter expert at Safety Made Simple, LLC. He has over 20 years of experience in safety at the corporate level and as a consultant. He is a Certified Safety Professional (CSP) and Occupational Safety and Health Technician (OHST). Joe can be reached at email@example.com