Winter maintenance: How to improve safety and avoid breakdowns

Planned winter maintenance can reduce the risk of breakdowns in the field, while replacing worn and damaged parts reduces the risk of deaths and injuries. NFU Mutual and Farm Safety Foundation offer some guidance.

Thorough overhauls of farm kit, from combines and balers to trailers and loaders, avoids valuable time being lost doing repairs out in the fields during busier seasons.  

Incidents can also be prevented if essentials such as trailer brakes are kept in good condition.
With long lead times on many replacement machinery parts, it now makes sense to get repairs and maintenance done well before machines are needed for field work.

“On many farms – especially arable units – Christmas to March is a quieter time when they can carry out maintenance and repairs to machinery and buildings,” said Evita van Gestel of NFU Mutual Risk Management Services.

“Indeed, many of the farmers I know would be perfectly happy spending the festive period in the workshop.

“From adjusting trailer brakes, replacing worn tines and thoroughly overhauling combines to fixing dodgy barn doors and leaking gutters, planned maintenance can save farmers a fortune.

“Scheduling the work enables you to make the best use of the time available – and means you can save money by hiring specialist equipment like lift platforms to carry out all the farm’s ‘at height’ maintenance in one go.

“You can save even more on hire costs if you join forces with a neighbour to split the costs and getting both farms’ work done at the same time.”

Saving lives and reducing injuries

Stephanie Berkeley, from the Farm Safety Foundation, says that winter maintenance can save lives and reduce injuries caused by hazards such as damaged PTO shafts or guards.

“Year after year we see tragic incidents happening on our farms – some of which could have been prevented by just taking the time to stay on top of maintenance,” Stephanie said.

“We fully understand the pressures farmers are under every day which is why it can be a good use of time to check and maintain kit before it goes out in the fields. 

“Using the quieter winter months to do those fiddly tasks you’ve been avoiding on buildings and machinery is great, but please do it safely, particularly when working at height.

“Every year farm workers are injured or worse when working at height so it’s important to plan the job and use the right equipment. In 2022, falling from height resulted in 1,430 injuries on farms – and every year tragically causes an average of four deaths.

“It doesn’t have to be a massive fall to cause a life-changing or life-ending injury when you fall onto concrete, which is why you should always resist the urge to use an old ladder or a tractor loader bucket.”

Cambridgeshire farmer shares word of warning

Tim Papworth suffered two bleeds to the brain and was partially paralysed when he fell from a ladder he was using to replace a light bulb in his potato store. The Cambridgeshire farmer was rushed to hospital by air ambulance and spent five weeks in a drug-induced coma.

“I couldn’t speak and had two bleeds on the brain,” he said. “I was paralysed on the left side of my body. I couldn’t do anything for myself. The only way I could communicate was by writing notes on bits of paper.

“Thanks to the speedy reaction of the air ambulance and the team at Addenbrooke’s I knew I was going to survive but I was still anxious about how I would function in the future and the affect it would all have on my wife Emma, our children and the family business.”

Tim has made a full recovery, apart from impaired hearing in his left ear, and is now an ambassador for the Farm Safety Foundation.

“As a farming business, we are so much more conscious of safety all the while and it has made me slow down and think about every process every single day,” he said.

“By using my story to highlight the physical and mental impact an injury like this can have on your family and your business, I hope I can prevent this happening to someone else.”

Worsening weather

Stephanie also urges farmers to keep safety in mind when the weather worsens and farmers, family members and staff are trying to save the farm from heavy snow, floods or wind damage.

“Farm machinery is dangerous at the best of time – but when there’s torrential rain, gale force winds, or heavy snow the risks are multiplied,” Stephanie said.

“It’s hard to do, but try to remember the risks, to yourself and others, before rushing into something potentially dangerous like clearing snow from a building roof.”

NFU Mutual’s safety checklist:

• Make sure you are competent to do the task – if there is any doubt get someone in to do it
• Use appropriate jacks and props when working under machinery
• Scrap damaged pto shafts to prevent them being accidentally re-used
• Use protective gloves and eye protection when using grinders and other cutting tools
• Don’t carry out machinery repairs involving welders or grinders in buildings where hay or straw is stored
• Tell family members where and when you’ll be working so they can find you if you don’t return on time
• Keep your mobile switched on and in a chest pocket so you can reach it if you are trapped
• Don’t take a chance using rickety ladders or loader buckets to do repairs at height
• Hire an access platform for a few days to get all the farm’s ‘at height’ maintenance done together
• Make sure power tool cables are free from damage to avoid electrocution
• Don’t tackle repairs that are beyond your capabilities or the safe limits of available tools
• Get loose sheets, gates, tiles and badly-fitted doors fixed before a storm causes serious damage.

Read more machinery articles here

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