From the time crops went in the ground this spring, this year’s growing season has been nearly perfect. Beautiful weather, plenty of rain and moderate temperatures have made this summer one for the record books.
However, harvest may prove to be more challenging than the summer growing season. Rain continues in many areas of the state, which means farmers are finding it hard to get in the fields to get their crops out. And that also means long days and tight deadlines ahead, making harvest season one of the busiest times of year — and tempting farmers to bypass basic safety procedures.
Failure to follow basic safety procedures leads to thousands of injuries — in addition to reported deaths — for farmers and employees annually. In fact, farm-related deaths in Illinois have taken a jump after experiencing record lows last year. Twenty-one people were killed in farm-related incidents from July 1, 2013 to June 30, 2014.
While not all of these deaths are road-related, it’s still important to remember that, during harvest, farmers and motorists alike must share our rural roads.
Nearly all farmers will use public roadways to haul grain to elevators or to move equipment to and from fields, creating potential hazards for both farmers and passing motorists. With National Farm Safety and Health Week, held Sept. 21 to 27, just around the corner, motorists and farmers should take the following precautions to help prevent roadway accidents:
- Reduce speed when encountering farm equipment on public roads. Flashing amber lights mean “caution.”
- Slow down when a slow moving vehicle (SMV) emblem is visible. The orange and red reflective triangle warns motorists that the tractor or combine they are approaching travels at a slow rate of speed.
- Keep a safe distance from the farm equipment. If the farmer’s mirrors aren’t visible to following motorists, the farmer can’t see the motorist, either.
- Pass wide, large farm equipment only if conditions are safe and the farmer will not be making a left-hand turn. Be cautious when pulling back in.
- Be prepared to yield to wide equipment.
- Always wear a safety belt and obey the road’s posted speed limit.
- Watch for the farmer’s indication of a turn. Newer equipment has one or more amber lights flashing rapidly to indicate a turn. Older equipment is typically not equipped with turn signals so watch for the farmer’s hand signals.
- Ensure reflective SMV signs are clean and located on the rear of any tractor and piece of towed equipment used on roadways.
- Use reflective marking tape and reflectors at the extremities of equipment.
- Try to avoid rush hours and busy roads.
- Turn on hazard lights and turn off field working lights when using roadways.
- Install mirrors that are wide enough to see following motorists.
- If possible, pull over to allow traffic to pass.
- Always use turn signals and be aware of oncoming traffic.
- When practical, truck larger equipment to the next location.
For both farmers and motorists, considering safety first can help ensure a successful and profitable harvest — and that farmers and their employees are there for planting season next spring.