Operators know about the dangers of the intake area on harvest equipment, but they often misjudge the speed at which injuries can occur. Operators often overestimate their ability to react in situations involving the intake area. For example, a baler traveling at the speed of 3 miles per hour pulls in crops at a rate of about 4.4 feet per second. Snapping rolls on a cornhead pull in stalks at a rate of about 12 feet per second. Both machines move faster than an operator can react in common situations. If an operator tries to unplug a stalk in a live cornhead, the snapping rolls can pull the rest of the stalk, and the operator's arm and hand, into the machine. This can happen in about the same time it would take for the operator to release the freed stalk.
To avoid entanglements, always disengage power and turn off the engine before trying to manually clear a plugged machine. Never try to pull or remove twine or wire from a bale case or knotter when the baler is in operation. Likewise, never try to feed twine by hand. Even if the engine is on idle, twine moves through a baler faster than the operator can react. Always keep protective shields in place. Beware of slips or falls that could place anyone near the machine intake area. Operators can decrease the incidence of plugged machines by regular maintenance of harvest machines, late season weed control, and operating equipment during optimal conditions.
Before field work begins, check the operator's manual for proper maintenance.
Replace all broken pick-up tines on balers, and dull knife cutterbarsections on grain platforms. Check spacing on cornhead stripper bars and replace all worn belts that could cause plugging problems in the field. Strive for good control of late season weeds, which often leads to plugging in harvest machines. Know which areas often have weed problems, and develop an effective weed management strategy.
Be realistic about weather conditions. When field conditions are wet, wait a few hours, or an extra day if possible, before harvesting crops. If harvest must be done in marginal conditions, expect crops to frequently plug the machine. Allow extra time to turn off the machine to unplug crops from the intake area.
Thanks to the Iowa State Extension for this safety message.