Don't be lulled by routine

be safe!

August 21, 2007|By JEFF SEMLER

With corn silage harvest well under way and the spreading of manure for the nourishment of fall crops not far behind, my thoughts turn to safety.

We will discuss both harvest safety and silo safety today and manure pit safety next week.

As with many farm hazards, those present in forage harvesting situations are usually recognized.

However, the risk perceived by the operator is reduced too much below the actual risk simply because of the familiarity of the operation. Invariably, the speed with which the equipment operates and with which incidents can occur are underestimated.

The result is that operators overestimate their ability to react. A pto shaft rotating at 540 rpm will pull something into it at the rate of 7 feet per second. Likewise, belts and pulleys needed for operating many pieces of forage harvesting equipment will pull something into them at up to 66 feet per second.


These speeds are beyond the human ability to react, not even considering the power that runs the machine and from energy in the machine itself.

Here are some safety tips to minimize risk while operating different types of equipment.

Before harvest, examine fields for changes since last fall: debris, limbs or foreign objects, and driving hazards, such as holes and ditch formation or undercutting.

Think through the operation to be used. Review operations manuals and follow maintenance guidelines. Cleaning, proper lubrication, replacement of worn parts (belts, chains, springs, hydraulic hoses, etc.), and replacing shields might save valuable time during the short harvest period.

With roadway transport, remember that the Motor Vehicle Code requires a Slowing Moving Vehicle (SMV) emblem on agricultural equipment. If the SMV emblem on the tractor is obstructed by equipment, such as wagons, an SMV emblem must be on the rearmost piece.

If traveling between 30 minutes before sundown or 30 minutes after sunrise, the wagons being towed might require lighting: two red lights if it obstructs the lighting on the tractor and a flashing amber on the rearmost piece.

It is recommended that the extremities - the widest part of balers, mowers and forage choppers - have reflectors or reflective tape on them. This will assist the driving public in recognizing the width of the towed equipment.

Always return the equipment to the roadway position before traveling on public roads. This position makes the equipment as narrow as possible, an advantage when pulling to the side to allow traffic to pass.

Lastly, practice safety with your machinery, both in the field and in the shop. Always disengage the pto and shut off the tractor/harvester before working on equipment. Stay clear of the discharge spout. Allow the machine to stop before hooking up wagons. Keep knives sharp and properly balanced.

Allow all components to come to a complete stop before inspecting/adjusting/repairing. Doors and shields should be tightly latched to deflect objects thrown by the cutter.

Silo gas dangers

Now that we have the forage out of the field, we need to think about silo gas.

This is formed as newly stored silage ferments, and can cause serious injuries - severe respiratory distress, permanent damage to lungs, and even death.

In late summer and early fall, when silos are being filled, the danger is at its peak.

Typically, corn silage forms more silo gas than other crops. There have been incidents of silo gas exposure from haylage, however, so we always need to be concerned.

Silo gas begins to form immediately after forage is put into a silo. Silo gas includes nitrogen oxide, which changes to nitrogen dioxide, NO2, in the presence of oxygen.

Nitrogen dioxide, not to be confused with nitrous oxide or "laughing gas," is a highly corrosive, toxic gas, which forms nitric acid when mixed with water. It is heavier than air and displaces oxygen.

Silo gas also contains carbon dioxide, which is not toxic, but is heavier than air and displaces oxygen. When inhaled, the nitrogen dioxide in silo gas mixes with the moisture in the body, forming nitric acid.

This causes severe burning and scarring of the lungs and other parts of the respiratory system.

Since it is heavier than air, silo gas will settle on the surface of the silage and flow down silo chutes.

People exposed to silo gas might collapse and die from the gas or lack of oxygen. They may go into respiratory distress, fall down the silo chute, or receive respiratory burns. Victims of silo gas have been known to die many hours later, sometimes in their sleep, from pulmonary edema, the buildup of fluid in the lungs from the burning.

Anyone who has been exposed to silo gas should get fresh air immediately and see a doctor, even if they feel better after getting fresh air.

To prevent silo gas exposure, the following steps are recommended:

Stay out of the silo for two to three weeks after filling. This is the peak period of silo gas formation. Keep the silo room closed off from the rest of the barn, and ventilate it to remove any gas that flows down the chute.

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