Farmers warned to not cut corners on safety this harvest

Farmers are expected to be under more pressure than ever during harvest this year, as challenging weather delayed farm operations.

Farmers are expected to be under more pressure than ever during harvest this year, as challenging weather delayed farm operations.

Wales Farm Safety Partnership (WFSP) has issued a warning that the health and safety of farmers must not be compromised.  

From the maintenance of machines before they are used to being aware of the height of overhead electricity cables, there are multiple considerations for farmers during this busiest period.  

Brian Rees, a farmer who is also a trainer and mentor in health and safety at Farming Connect, has shared advice on some of the key areas that must not be overlooked.  


Where machines have not been put to work for several months, important maintenance assessments are needed before operating.

Mr Rees advises checking brakes and tyre pressures.

Farmers should also grease moving parts, such as hitching systems, and ensure that oil levels are high so that oil pressure isn’t lost when the machine is operating.

Safe stop

Brian Rees

He continues: “When parking a vehicle, always apply the handbrake, engage the gear system in neutral, turn off the engine and remove the key.

“If there is a loader or other implement on the front, always lower this before turning the engine off.

“Every farm vehicle, from tractors to combine harvesters, should have a first aid kit in its cab and also plenty of drinking water.

“Most people now have a mobile phone, and it is most important than ever to carry this during field work.”

Lone working  

Technology has provided some important tracking tools for farmers working in isolated locations.

Mr Rees said that apps such as Find My Friends and Life 360 provide live updates on where the phone – and farmer – are located.

Farmers should always let someone know where they are working and the approximate time they expect to return.

Road safety  

The health and safety mentor added that farmers should keep their vehicles in four-wheel drive and ensure the weight of the vehicle is on the gripping wheels, which means on the lower side of how the vehicle is positioned on the slope.

“Having the correct tyre pressure is more important than ever when operating machines on more challenging terrain. Also, always wear a seatbelt when in the cab.

“Larger machines can straddle the highway on double carriageways, so appropriate safety measures need to be taken, including having convoy vehicles to warn other motorists.

“This is sensible on smaller country roads too, to avoid congestion or meeting oncoming vehicles when there is no room to pass, and to check the road ahead for potential obstructions.

“Although there is no law dictating when slow-moving vehicles should pull over to allow other road users to pass, the guidance is to do so at the next appropriate spot when there are six vehicles behind.”

Beware of overhead power cables

Lines that have up to 32 kV of power must have a minimum ground clearance of at least 5.2m, and lines with up to 132 kV should be 6.7m or more from the ground.

What many farmers might not take into account though is that power cables can drop during hot weather, sometimes by half a metre, so this needs to be considered when working near them.

Mr Rees also pointed out that farmers’ vehicles should always be visible on the highway.

He said: “By law, farm vehicles must be fitted with a flashing beacon when they are travelling along an unrestricted dual carriageway, but it is sensible to have this on a country road too, to warn other road users of a slow-moving vehicle.

“A second beacon might be needed if a tractor is towing a high-sided trailer or machine as the beacon, which must be seen from 360 degrees, could be obscured.

“Never use a tractor’s working lights on the highway at night, as the glare of these will cause dazzle for motorists travelling in front or behind.”

Keep children safe  

The expert added that children should only ever be in a working area on a farm when they are 100% supervised by a responsible person who is not part of the working team.

Children under 13 should never ride in the cab of any agricultural machine.

Take a break  

As the hours are often long during harvest, it’s important to be aware of the signs of fatigue and to take a break when they start to set in.  

 Mr Rees said: “It can be sensible to have changeovers of staff operating machines – for example, in a harvesting situation, the combine or forage harvester operator will be working continuously while the tractor drivers might have the opportunity of a short break between loads.   

“Switch between the two if the drivers have the relevant expertise.” 

Protect against heat and sun 

Harvesting ideally takes place when the weather is warm and sunny, but with heat and sun comes the need for frequent hydration and sun protection.

Mr Rees advises farmers to drink plenty of water, wear sun cream and a hat, and keep arms and legs covered during the hottest part of the day.

Be visible in the yards  

He added: “Ensure that any pedestrians who are, for example, directing drivers into pits, are wearing hi-vis clothing so that they can be clearly seen.

“Minimise reversing manoeuvres; while these can’t be eliminated entirely, they can be reduced, and this is important as the biggest killer on farms is people being run over or crushed by a moving vehicle.

“Some new models of tractors and trailers are now fitted with reversing alarms.”

Mr Rees said that farmers can get more advice during the RWAS Sustainable Grassland and Muck event at Trawscoed Farm on 30th May 2024.

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