Before starting your engines for the first time this harvest season, review the following safety tips from Cheryl Skjolaas, University of Wisconsin Center for Agricultural Safety and Health. Skjolaas spoke at the recent annual meeting of the Wisconsin Custom Operators.

  1. Know your machines

    “If you don't feel comfortable on that machinery, go back to that dealership … bring in someone with experience with it and learn those fine details that you feel you need to help keep you — and the people who work for you — safe,” Skjolaas said. Or read or review operator manuals or view training videos. Many times, accidents happen when employees are given new chores with little knowl-edge or supervision.

  2. Use proper personal protective equipment

    “It's got to be something they're going to wear and be comfortable with and does the job for them,” she said. Provide employees with a policy on safety gear and then enforce that policy, Skjolaas advised.

  3. Develop a policy outlining when or if passengers are allowed on equipment

    “If there was a policy saying no riders in loader buckets or skid loader buckets, we'd have saved a few lives.” Also consider having a policy excluding significant others and children from riding on buddy or instructor seats.

  4. Determine safe distances between observers and machinery

    “It's said, when a power takeoff is operating, that 2' on each side of it is still within the danger zone.” Skjolaas recommended using orange cones or hazard tape to indicate work zones.

  5. Institute a procedure or practice called Lockout/Tagout

    Also called LOTO, its goal is to prevent unexpected machinery startups. (Visit:

    “What is your procedure when people get off a tractor? Is it a requirement that they turn that ignition off? Do they take keys with them? Do they put keys in some compartment so nobody else can come along and turn that equipment on?” she asked.

    She suggested walking through possible maintenance duties and procedures with one set of machinery, developing a LOTO policy for that equipment and altering it for other implements.

  6. Keep safety guards and shields in place

    If you need to take them off for repair, put them back on once repairs are completed. Keep a maintenance chart to alert others when repairs are done or what needs to be completed before a machine is put back into action.

  7. Institute safe procedures while conveying equipment on public roads

    Buckle seat belts whether you're on the road or in a field. Keep vehicle/equipment lights and slow-moving emblems in good shape and clean. Install reflectors on the sides of implements and use turn signals. Be sure employees know and obey traffic laws; use Department of Motor Vehicle handbooks for review.

  8. Tow equipment properly

    “Are you properly hitching up that equipment? Some of you may use automatic hitches now that save on the overall wear and tear on a person. Do you have safety pins and chains?” she asked.

  9. Scout the terrain before harvest

    Rolling hills or problem fields that could cause hazards need to be marked, Skjolaas pointed out. Keep off road shoulders, especially with bigger equipment or in wet conditions.

  10. Watch your speed

    “Speed is a factor in a lot of machinery incidents,” she added. “We need to know the appropriate speed for that field you're working in or that territory that you're covering, with the type of equipment that you're using.”