Harvest time safety tips - Elders Rural Services
harvester, auger and chaser bin at work in a grain paddock

Harvest time safety tips

Harvest season is notorious for being the most strenuous time for grain growers.

This year, in many areas of Australia, ideal weather has produced bumper crops, so there is a lot to achieve in a short window of time.

With harvest time imminent, now is the time to plan ahead and take steps to minimise risks to health and safety. Whether it’s your first harvest or your 40th, you’ll find some useful tips in this guide.


Harvesters, chaser bins and augers etc have often been stationary in sheds since last season. Before you take them into the paddock, make time to service them and ensure that everything is running smoothly. Make sure all engines are fired down and all moving parts stopped before working on the machine.

The following is a basic check list that should be used each morning before you start. Look, listen and smell for signs of problems.

  • Check fuel and hydraulic lines for leaks and cracks. Replace as necessary.
  • Check bearings and belts for signs of wear and check all moving parts.
  • Check spark arresters/exhaust systems to ensure they are in good condition therefore reducing risk of starting a fire.
  • Check lights and ensure they are adequate both for night operation and safe travel on roads at dawn and dusk.
  • Check a fire extinguisher and first-aid kit are in a handy position for use in an emergency. Ideally have one extinguisher in the cabin and another outside.
  • Check all bins, silos etc for structural damage, rust or metal fatigue.
  • Ensure all guards removed for equipment cleaning or maintenance have been replaced.
  • Check your cabin filter – harvest is a dusty time. It’s suggested the filter be changed every six to 12 months or 400 hours of service.
  • Ensure your water trailer is full in case of fire.
  • Refuel safely – don’t multitask, stay close to the tanks so you can act quickly if something happens and don’t smoke while refueling.

Once harvest commences clean equipment well each night. Keep trash and straw away from pulleys, bearings and belts and don’t let chaff and dust accumulate near hot areas. Cleaning equipment is a dirty, dusty job but imperative for worker safety and efficient operations. Oh, and make sure you close that silo lid before you retire for the night.

If you have new staff or machinery, it’s a wise idea to have a run through with them and ensure they are competent to operate your equipment before they are let loose in the paddock. Have all manuals available for anyone who may need to refer to them.  All machines are slightly different.

Farm maintenance

Get any odd jobs around the property done now, so they are off your list and out of your mind.
Ensure all access and egress to paddocks are cleared and workers are aware of powerlines or other potential terrain hazards. Cut firebreaks around paddock perimeters.

Clean your silos but be sure they are adequately ventilated before entering confined spaces. Ideally you should have a spotter present in case of an incident.

Is your workshop adequately ventilated and hazardous materials stored in a separate area? Is the workshop clean, potential tripping hazards removed and items stored at height secure? Remember: You have a legal duty of care to provide a safe working environment.

Keeping you, your workers and your family safe

Big machinery is fascinating for children, but they aren’t toys. Have a designated play area and keep kids away from harvest areas. Keep them (and animals) away from the grain bins, carts and farm machinery.

Let your family (or someone) know where you will be working and when they can expect you to return, in case of accidents.

It’s easy to let your diet slip during harvest, but it’s really important to eat well and stay hydrated. Sitting in the tractor or header all day may mean you’ll need less calories, but make sure what you eat is nutritious, keeping fruit, nuts and veggies handy to nibble on. Avoid convenience foods that are high in sugar and may trigger afternoon “slumps” (affectionately known as tractor cabin syndrome).

All workers should be wearing well-maintained PPE, including high-vis shirts so they can be seen. Long hair or loose clothing should be secured so as not to get caught in moving parts.

Check on your mate’s mental health

Let’s face it, harvest time is hard on the mind as well as the body. Sitting alone in the harvester for hour after hour, you have plenty of time to think things over and over. Grab a positive book to read, take a pen and paper to jot down your thoughts (you might be a poet but didn’t know it!) or catch up on the latest news from Elders.

There’s also the added stress of seasonal rain and storms with the potential to destroy or reduce the quality of your crops. Check the Elders weather app each day for the latest forecast in conjunction with your state fire authority’s Harvest Code of Practice, then plan the day accordingly.

As harvest continues fatigue becomes an increasing problem. Signs of fatigue aren’t limited to chronic tiredness and sleepiness but can include: headache, dizziness, slow reflexes and responses, moodiness, blurry vision and reduced ability to concentrate.

Check-in on one another and schedule regular breaks to get out of your seat and move. Most importantly, try to destress (not with alcohol) at days end and get a good night’s sleep.

Stay Covid safe

Review your continuity plans to manage the impact of Covid-19 to your business. This includes personal safety to your family and workers, as well as any border restrictions which may impact the movement of your equipment, harvest and workers. Refer to your state’s current Covid policy for updates. Some, such as Queensland have developed information specific to harvest.

Harvest time may be high risk, but invest a little time now in planning and preparation and you’ll reap the rewards.

Image: Harvest Time by Tarren Minhard, Cummins SA.

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