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Combine harvesters

Safety Alert
1 March 2015

A worker was fatally injured while attempting to correct an operating problem on a combine harvester with a header attachment.

Harsh environmental conditions had contributed to the seizing up of a part on the machine. The worker did not isolate the power source before attempting an inspection and repair, resulting in fatal crush injuries from uncontrolled movement of the harvester caused by the hydraulic system activating unexpectedly.

Combine harvesters are used in the agriculture industry for harvesting grain. There is high demand for the machines to be used as productively as possible during the short period of peak harvest time between October and December each year.

Combine harvesters are complex machines with many moving parts that can introduce shear, pinch or trap points. Guards should always be in place during operation. Due to the flexibility of the machinery and the many attachments available for different harvesting modes, hazards can be present even during changeover between attachments.

Probable causes

  • Environmental factors such as dust, moisture or high temperatures can affect the operation of machinery. Headers can also sustain damage from striking rocks or tree stumps.
  • Straw and other loose material can accumulate and damage critical components.
  • Harvesting is dependent on the weather and takes place during a small window of opportunity. Workers may feel pressure to get the work done quickly, increasing the risk of making a mistake.

Action required

  • Under work health and safety laws, anyone who has responsibility for the management and control of plant also has a duty to manage risks to health and safety.
  • Any problems with items of plant must be recorded and addressed.
  • Never take shortcuts when fixing problems with farming machinery. Injuries can be prevented by careful attention to correct maintenance procedures.
  • Machinery must be maintained, inspected and tested regularly by a competent person, according to manufacturers’ recommendations.
  • Train workers appropriately.
  • Ensure guarding provided by the manufacturer is correctly installed during operation to avoid exposing workers to moving parts.
  • If harvesting equipment malfunctions, the plant’s motor should be turned off and the machine de-energised before investigating the problem or clearing an obstruction.

Whenever possible, lower the header attachment and rest it on a solid supporting surface before attempting any inspection or clearing an obstruction.