5 steps to prevent injuries in mechanical potato harvesting and other farming operations

Sep 27, 2013

Potato hopperHoppers are an essential piece of equipment for loading seed or crop onto a conveyor - two of the most critical activities in the planting and harvesting seasons.

In the past few years, several serious incidents have occurred that involve potato hoppers, harvesters and other related equipment. Most recently, a worker who was adjusting the height of a hopper to align it with a conveyor system sustained fatal injuries.

Incidents like this are devastating for everyone: the injured workers, their families, co-workers, and the farming operation itself. They're also preventable. Here are five suggestions on how to keep your workers safe around hoppers.

  1. Recognize the hazards. Seeding and harvesting are highly mechanized operations that involve large machinery, related equipment, moving vehicles, long hours, and varied weather conditions. During the harvest season, farmers often hire people to work in fields and storage warehouses, where they may come into contact with farm machinery.

    Hoppers in particular can present several safety hazards for people working with or near this type of equipment. For instance:

    • tipping or shifting equipment
    • moving conveyor parts
    • crushing, entanglement and pinning.

    Identifying, assessing and managing hazards will help you prevent injuries from occurring and protect your operation from disruption and loss.

  2. Always maintain, operate and repair your equipment properly and safely. As a starting point, follow manufacturers' specifications at all times.

    Keeping equipment in prime running condition reduces the risk of untimely breakdowns and temporary, make-do repairs. It's also an employer's duty under the Occupational Health and Safety Act. Other duties include:

    • keeping a safe and well-maintained workplace
    • providing hazard information, proper safety equipment, training, and competent supervision
    • following proper procedures in case of injury.

  3. Ensure supervisors and workers have the expertise and skills needed to do their jobs. Under the act, supervisors are responsible for
    • ensuring a safe workplace and assigning safe work
    • providing training and information
    • supervising workers.

    Workers are responsible for

    • working safely and not taking risks
    • reporting unsafe conditions
    • wearing the right safety equipment for the job
    • asking their employers about health and safety concerns.

  4. Use the right equipment for the job. Farm equipment manufacturers rely on professional engineers to design equipment. Their designs are based on hazard assessments, and aim to eliminate hazards related to tipping, rolling over, falling, and unforeseen movement. Employers who jerry-rig the equipment could expose their workers to hazards and compromise the integrity of the equipment, which could lead to significant disruption and loss.

  5. If you have to change the design of a hopper or any other piece of farm machinery, involve an engineer in both the design and installation. Equipment design changes fall within the practice of professional engineering. In Ontario, section 12(1) of the Professional Engineers Act requires that this work be done by a holder of a licence, a temporary licence or a limited licence. Under section 12(3) (b) of the act, this work may also be done by an unlicensed individual who has a licence holder assume responsibility for the engineering work.

Learn more

For information and assistance with conducting hazard assessments and other aspects of farm safety, contact Workplace Safety & Prevention Services, 905-614-1400 or 1 877-494-WSPS (9777); customercare@wsps.ca; www.wsps.ca.

For access to the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the Professional Engineers Act, visit the Service Ontario e-laws website.