Purdue University
Cooperative Extension Service
West Lafayette, IN 47907

Using Grain Harvesting Equipment Safely

Prepared by F. R. Willsey and David H. Loewer,
Former Purdue staff members in Agricultural Engineering

Good safety habits are vital for anyone who operates a combine, corn picker or other grain harvesting machine. Failure to observe safety practices can be fatal!

However, constant alertness is also necessary to prevent machinery accidents--accidents which often happen in spite of machinery that is designed for safety.

Machinery operators are not in top physical or emotional condition when they are tired, ill, worried, angry or have their minds on something else. Accidents are most likely to happen under these conditions.

Machine Preparation

Grain harvesting machines have many moving parts that need regular adjustment and maintenance. Begin preparing machinery for harvest in the off-season, at least several weeks before you will be using them. It takes time to get these machines into efficient, safe operating condition.

Be sure that all pto covers, safety stands and shields are on the machine before taking it to the field.

Read and understand your operator's manual. Be sure to follow the instructions for getting your machinery into top operating condition for a safe harvest.

Field Preparation

It is easy to see obstacles in a field during tillage and planting, but they might not be visible in the mature crop. Large stones and stumps can cause upsets, especially on slopes. So remove as many obstacles as possible before harvest, and mark any others with a tall pole or stake so they can be seen clearly in the mature crop.

Ditches pose special problems. A safe distance from ditch edges at planting time may not be safe at harvest because of the difference in size and weight of planting and harvesting equipment. Heavy rains can also undercut banks or form new ditches. Plant crop to allow extra turning space near ditches, and double check for undercut embankments and new ditches before harvest. In general, allow at least one-fourth more turning space than required by the largest piece of equipment you will be using.

A good weed control program will improve crop quality and reduce plugging of harvest equipment.

Adjusting and Servicing Combines

For safety and efficiency, service machinery before beginning the day's work, and as needed during the day.

Before working under a header, be sure the header latch is fixed in place or that proper blocking is used. Do not rely on the hydraulic system alone!

Shut down both the machine and the engine before working on harvest machines, especially self-propelled combines. These have one or more main belt drives that turn whenever the engine is running, even when other components are shut off.

However, changing the speed of the variable speed cylinder or fan usually must be done while the machine is running. Shielding is usually provided for making these adjustments safely. Be sure these shields are in place and do not make any other adjustments at this time. Follow the instructions in the operator's manual.

If two or more people are needed to position, adjust or service a machine, make sure everyone knows what is being done and how to communicate with others. Use the standard agriculture hand signals. Keep everyone else away from the controls while you are working on the combine, unless they are needed to assist.

Diving the Combine

The combine operator must be comfortable and within easy reach of the controls to be able to drive it safely. Discomfort is not only distracting, but it also contributes to fatigue. Adjust the seat to your height and reach. Also, most modern combines have an adjustable steering column for either individual arm lengths or the standing position.

The wheels that steer many self-propelled machines are mounted at the rear. Watch where you are going when making a turn, since the rear of the combine may swing around and strike something.

Two brake pedals that control individual drive wheels are provided. When used separately, these pedals assist with turns. Used together, they stop the combine in a straight line. Uneven brake application will cause the combine to swerve, especially at high speeds.

Combine size

Know the position of parts that extend beyond or above the header, such as the unloading auger, cab, grain elevator or exhaust pipe. Know just how large your equipment is This will help avoid hitting fences, buildings, power lines, trees, etc. Visibility to the rear is usually limited. Make sure everything and everyone is clear before backing or turning the combine.

Ladders and platforms

Keep steps and walking surfaces free of grease and dirt. Use handrails to mount and dismount safely. Frost-covered sheet metal is very slipper Avoid using the operator's platform for storage.

Field Operation

Proper machine operation is important for safe and efficient harvest. This means reducing harvest problems and dealing safely with those that do occur.

Feeding and plugging

Uniform feeding of a crop in good condition provides a smooth flow through the combine and results in fewer breakdowns. To achieve uniform feeding, use good tillage and planting practices, cut the crop evenly, make sure the 6 header is the right size for your crop and combine, and operate the header and combine at the proper speed.

If the cylinder or some other part of the combine does plug, stop the combine as quickly as possible. Shut off the engine. To unplug the machine:

Straw choppers and spreaders

Straw, stalks and other flying material thrown from choppers can injure bystanders. Make sure everyone is away from the discharge area of the machine before and during operation. Check and service choppers regularly to keep them properly balanced.

If you must be near the rear of a combine for service checks, disconnect or remove the chopper or spreader. Don't walk ahead of the rear wheel or too close to the side of the machine. Checks should be made only on smooth ground while the combine is moving straight forward.

Eye protection is needed for anyone working near a combine when the straw chopper or spreader is running.

Unloading the grain tank

Don't dip your hand into the bin while the machine is running. There may be augers running below the surface grain. No one should be in the grain tank while the combine engine is running.

If grain bridges during unloading, stop the auger before trying to free the grain. Use a small shovel or stick to break the bridging. Never use your hands or feet to remove trash or to push the last bit of grain into the unloading auger. Stop the auger and use a broom.

If the combine tank is emptied on-the-go, the combine operator and hauler must work together to avoid accidents. Do not get the truck or wagon too close to the combine. Be prepared for unexpected stops and leave plenty of room for the combine to turn at the ends of the field. Stop unloading in time to turn corners and drive around obstacles safely. Have a rear-view mirror positioned so you can see the end of the unloading auger and the truck or wagon at the same time.

Operating Under Adverse Conditions

On hillsides

Operating any machine on a hillside demands good equipment and operator control. The hillside combine is designed for safe harvest on very steep slopes. These machines level themselves automatically. However, level-land combines can be operated safely on many minor slopes if these practices are observed:

These practices apply to hillside combines also. These can be used safely on much steeper slopes than level-land combines. Follow these rules for using the leveling system on hillside combines.

Equipment for down crops

Special attachments are available for down crops, including pickup reels, special dividers and other gathering devices. Use the right equipment to avoid damage to the combine and reduce fatigue. Be especially alert for ditches, washouts, and holes in the field. A down crop often covers them. In down crops, slow down to reduce tangling, bunching, and plugging.

Muddy fields or weedy crops

Skip the muddy and weedy areas and return to them later when the field is drier and firmer. Special equipment, such as powered rear wheels, wide flotation tires and half-tracks, is available for harvesting in muddy fields. When installing these attachments, block the machine carefully. Make installation only on a hard surface. Keep steps, platform, foot pedals, and other controls clean when working in mud, snow, or ice.

Dry crop conditions and high temperatures

Check regularly for overheated bearings that could burn out or cause a fire in dry chaff. Remove excess dirt and chaff from the engine and exhaust system. Overloaded and slipping belts can cause fires. Watch your speed indicators and service your belt drives regularly. Mount an all-purpose fire extinguisher where you can reach it readily in case of fire. Know how to use it.

Shutdown Procedure

When leaving a harvesting machine, even for a short time, make sure the header is down on the ground or floor, supported by solid blocks, or in the up position with the safety latch on. Shut off the engine, set the parking brake, and leave the transmission in gear to prevent the combine from moving. Remove the ignition key to keep children or unauthorized persons from starting the combine.

Moving Combines on Public Roads

Moving a self-propelled or pull-type combine on roads and highways requires special care, whether it is being driven, towed or hauled. To move a combine:

Other preparation of the combine depends on road conditions, distance to be traveled and method of moving. Check your operator's manual for specific procedures. Consult local or state officials for regulations pertaining to moving large machines on public roads.

If you are driving a self-propelled machine on the road, you need good visibility to both front and rear. Use rear-view mirrors. Because the wheels and steering are in the rear, self-propelled machines will often fishtail when turned quickly at transport speeds. If you slow or brake the combine too rapidly, you could lose some steering control, especially with a heavy header or with the header raised too high. Install rear wheel weights as recommended in your operator's manual and keep the header as low as possible. Reduce speed before you need to apply brakes.

When towing a pull-type combine at transport speeds, a tractor or truck may skid if you stop too quickly, especially on loose gravel. Slowing too quickly while turning a corner can cause jackknifing of tractor and combine. Self-propelled combines should be towed on roads only if it is absolutely necessary. Even though it may be easier to tow from the rear, towing from the front is preferable. Visibility is better and there are stronger structural members for fastening the tow chain in front. Follow instructions in your operator's manual.

To haul the combine on a truck or trailer, fasten the combine at each drive wheel and at the rear. Lock the brake pedals together and use wheel chocks to block each side of the drive wheels. Be sure you know the height, width, and weight of the load, and check local and state regulations. Watch for narrow culverts and bridges and low-clearance objects like overpasses and power lines.

If You Are Under 16 ...

A federal farm labor law protects you. Except when you are working for your parent or guardian on a farm owned or operated by that person, you are not permitted to operate a tractor over 20 pto hp and certain other farm machinery, including a corn picker, cotton picker, combine, hay mower, or forage harvester. However, with special training, you may qualify to do these jobs at age 14.

Young people under 14 may be employed to do any job that is not classified as particularly hazardous IF they have the written consent of parent or guardian. There is one exception: those under 12 are not permitted to work on farms that used 500 or more man-days of farm labor during any quarter of the preceding calendar year. Check with your County Extension Service office for more information about this law.

Prepared by F. R. Willsey and David H. Loewer, former Purdue staff members in Agricultural Engineering

Approved for reprinting by Bill Field Extension Safety Specialist

For more information, contact Bill Field, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, phone: 317-494-1191 or e-mail: field@ecn.purdue.edu

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Cooperative Extension work in Agriculture and Home Economics, state of Indiana, Purdue University, and U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating; HA. Wadsworth, Director, West Lafayette. IN. Issued in furtherance of the acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914. Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service is an equal opportunity/equal access institution