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October 28, 2019
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Safe Harvest Strategies

Navigating the Treacherous Waters of Your Busiest Season

The harvest is comparable to the perfect storm. To navigate its troubled waters, we must chart a course for success.

Harvest is a time when we invite customers into our facilities, use temporary help, work longer hours, and push our equipment to the limit. A balanced approach focusing on several elements can help ensure a safe and successful harvest.

Harvest is not only about serving customers but serving them safely. Let’s explore several ways to navigate safely through harvest.

Seasonal Labor

In our industry, it is common to hire seasonal workers during harvest. I am often asked, “How should I handle my seasonal labor, when it comes to safety?”

My answer is always the same: “Treat them the same as you would a full-time employee.”

We must ensure that seasonal employees have the tools they need to work safely. I encourage you to manage the hiring process, so that time is allotted for adequate training prior to harvest.

Training requirements will vary based on the types of tasks performed.

The life-critical topics always should be reviewed (emergency action plan, no smoking, combustible dust hazards, entrapment/engulfment, hazard communication, lockout/tagout, confined space/bin entry, etc.), but don’t forget to focus on specific tasks, their hazards, and how to manage these risks.


Navigating through harvest will not be a smooth journey.

We can minimize the risk by anticipating the hazards and challenges that we undoubtedly will face.

We need to take the time to meet frequently, perhaps daily or on a shift basis, to discuss the activities of the day, potential hazards, and ways to eliminate or manage them.

Communicate constantly with your crew providing both positive and guidance feedback.

Express your concerns, and ask for theirs. When exposure increases above what is planned, we need to collaborate, communicate, and chart the course.

Preventive Maintenance

A captain would not sail without having the crew prepare the ship for the extremes that it will face.

They not only would risk losing the ship, but more importantly, their lives. The equipment in the facility is like the ship in this example.

Make sure that it is up to the challenge by performing preventive maintenance prior to and during harvest.

Check to make sure that bearings are greased, magnets are operational, dust collection systems are operating correctly, belts are tracking properly, hazard-monitoring equipment is functioning properly, etc.

These actions not only will prevent downtime but also ensure that equipment is running safely during heavy use periods. It also is helpful to anticipate what types of equipment problems may arise.

Having critical replacement parts on hand not only eliminates downtime but also will allow efficient equipment repair.

Otherwise, equipment may run in an unsafe manner, until parts arrive. The consequences of these types of actions can be catastrophic.


Managing housekeeping in a grain handling facility is an endless task but one that is essential to the safety of all involved.

When we think about the elements that it takes to have a dust explosion, it is easy to see that harvest offers favorable conditions for a serious incident. With increased volume comes increased dust generation.

Consistent housekeeping efforts must be a priority during harvest.

Once housekeeping gets out of control, it is very hard to manage.

Making sure that a strict inspection and cleanup schedule is adhered to is critical to success.

Worker Fatigue

Long hours, tough work conditions, and dealing with customers causes stress resulting in fatigue.

Worker fatigue can cause loss of focus and concentration. To put it simply, our bodies need rest.

Combat worker fatigue by ensuring that employees get adequate breaks, rest periods, and sleep by staffing and scheduling proactively. Evaluate employee performance regularly to identify symptoms of fatigue.

It’s hard to say no to an employee who wants to pull the long shift to help out. It’s even harder to deal with an injury that we know could have been prevented.


Harvest can turn into the perfect storm, if we don’t do our best to plan accordingly and manage its many challenges.

It’s not uncommon for companies to focus on safety throughout the year only to lapse during the chaotic periods.

Sometimes the focus shifts from getting the job done safely to just getting it done.

I challenge each of you to plan accordingly, assess each day’s activities, and to prepare your employees for the challenges they will face.

Ensure that your employees are prepared and have the tools to perform their jobs safely. Here’s hoping that you reach your final destination without harm.

Have a safe and bountiful harvest.

Source: Joe Mlynek is president of Progressive Safety Services LLC, Gates Mills, OH;; and content creation expert for Safety Made Simple Inc., Olathe, KS;



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Safety Tip of the Week is edited by Managing Editor Tucker Scharfenberg and published each Monday by Grain Journal, Decatur, IL

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