Our Organisation Search
Quick Links
Toggle: Topics

Safety at Harvest Time

Tillage farms are busy places at present. With current challenging weather making things more difficult it is very important to maintain a focus on managing Health and Safety on the farm. Francis Bligh and John McNamara, Teagasc Health and Safety Specialists have some information and advice.

Tillage farms are busy places at present. With current challenging weather making things more difficult it is very important to maintain a focus on managing Health and Safety on the farm. Harvesting crops is a highly mechanised activity with large sophisticated machines. The National Farm Survey 2012 to 2017 looked at accident rates across farming systems in Ireland. It showed that by farming system reporting accidents dairy farms had the highest accident rate of 18% compared to tillage (12%) sheep (11%) and cattle (17%). This survey also shows that on Tillage farms 16% of accidents were trips and falls, 28% livestock and 28% farm vehicles and machinery.

Injuries from being crushed by a tractor or machine

Health and Safety Authority H.S.A figures show 54% of deaths with tractors and farm vehicles have been as a result of a crush injury.

How have crush injuries occurred?

  • machine moved because the brakes were not properly applied,
  • machine moved because it was not safely supported
  • entering a crush zone to clear a blockage.
  • knocked down and crushed by machine reversing in a farmyard.

To find out more check out this H.S.A video here.

Machine operation safety tips

  • Everyone involved with tractor and machinery operation must be experienced and competent. Adequate rest breaks should be taken.
  • Driving when tired or hungry reduces concentration.
  • All safety guards, particularly PTO guards, are kept in place at all times.
  • Machines like combines and balers with exposed moving parts like crop intake points must be carefully managed.
  • When blockages and stoppages occur it is very important to first turn off the machine, put on the handbrake and beware of stored energy.
  • All operators and/or contractors must be made aware of any electrical lines, phone lines, uneven surfaces and slopes.
  • No machine should be overloaded.

To find out more check out the H.S.A publication Guidance on the Safe Use of Tractors and Machinery on Farms here.


Farmers use an array of workshop tools and equipment for maintenance and repairs, such as welders, grinders, generators and power washers.

  • managing safety in the workshop
  • the equipment is only operated by competent operators.
  • all safety devices must be in place and in working order.
  • correct personal protective equipment as specified by the manufacturer must be used.
  • all visible defects in portable and fixed equipment must be rectified.
  • keep workshop tidy.
  • store critical safety equipment in the same place and easily accessible.

For more information check out this Teagasc Publication, Farm Workshop Safety


Everyone, including family members not directly involved in the job should be kept away from the harvest, particularly children. Sadly 21 children lost their lives as a result of a farm accidents in past 10 years.  The major causes of childhood deaths on farms are tractors and machinery (accounting for 81%), falls or collapses (9%) and drowning (5%). It is very important that a safe and secure play area for young children is provided and that when children are in or around fields or farmyards they are fully supervised. Children under 7 are not permitted on tractors and machinery.

Road safety

Drivers of agricultural machines should travel at appropriate speeds and with caution. Farmers and contractors should communicate this message to drivers at any opportunity. It is important to increase visibility by using the equipment’s lights and beacons, especially during inclement weather or when light is low (early mornings and evenings). Good communication must be maintained between operators of all machinery in the harvesting process.

Part time and inexperienced drivers

Many farmers and contractors employ drivers on a part time basis during the harvest period. These drivers are responsible for the safe operation of large machines, tractors and heavy loads. It is the responsibility of the farmer or contractor employing the driver to make sure they have received the instruction, training and supervision necessary to competently operate the machine. Farmers and contractors must take action if they observe or made aware of drivers that are acting irresponsibly or dangerously with machinery or farm vehicles.

Making, moving stacking bales can be dangerous

Bales should be loaded, transported and stacked carefully to ensure they don’t roll or fall. Falling from a height accounted for 9% of fatalities and falling objects 8% of fatalities over the last 10 years. A Safe means of tying down loaded bales must be planned and carried out.


It is important to keep machines cleaned down to minimise dust build up. Inspect regularly to identify frayed wiring or components that are overheating. Use isolation switches when machines are parked. Do not park machines close together. If repairing machines stay clear of straw stores or where fuels are stored.

Dust and Spores

Dust and spores cause very severe illness. Sources of dust and spores include straw or grain. Exposure to these materials can cause both short-term effects (including irritation, bronchitis and breathlessness), and long-term effects (including asthma, chronic bronchitis, shortness of breath, weight loss, farmers lung and sensitisation).

  • Generation of dust and spores should be kept to a minimum.
  • Adequate ventilation must be provided.
  • A suitable dust respirator (P2 or P3) is used where dust or spore levels cannot be fully controlled.

To find out more visit https://www.hsa.ie/eng/Your_Industry/Agriculture_Forestry/Other_Hazards/Farmer_Health/


As a general rule, if the noise is such that it is difficult to hear someone talk in a normal voice, noise levels are at damaging levels

  • First try to reduce the noise by closing windows.
  • Where noise cannot be eliminated ear muffs will help to protect you from hearing loss.

Stress/ Personal Health

Farming as a lifestyle in many ways is positive to wellbeing, however, stress can arise. Stress and poor health are associated with high accident levels. It is important to recognise signs of stress and ill health and to seek professional help. Talk to your advisor and other farmers regularly.

For more information, visit Positive Mental Health in Farming 

Covid 19

With the recent upsurge in Covid 19 is very important to continue to implement measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

  • Maintain a minimum of two meter distance from others.
  • Wear a mask where the two meter distance cannot be maintained.
  • Do not get in a tractor or combine with the driver. 
  • If a new driver takes over a machine it is important to clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces within the machine.
  • Cough into your elbow.

For more information of measures to prevent the spread of Covid 19 visit Best on-farm practice for Covid-19