Technology is cool. I think anyone who has been to an ag show would agree. We have apps and high tech add-ons for our equipment. Things like monitors and cameras, sensors and remote alerting. We also add on low-tech devices to ensure efficiency and improve safety.
A farm manager I know who takes care of a large grain farm with around a dozen employees in season is always assessing to see where improvements can be made. He has found the biggest improvements have come with better lighting.
Better lighting makes working in dark and poorly light areas easier and safer. Choosing the right lights can be intimidating — there are so many choices are available. Making a site map can help determine the strength and type of lighting you need and where to put it.
Before you run down and buy a bunch of lights on sale consider your lighting plan. And also consider how you can incorporate other safety measures such as cameras and reflectors in your overall plan.
Three main areas of lighting are important to map out. Stationary sites: grain bins, loading areas, service and parking areas. Movable equipment: augers, sweeps, baggers and extractors, seeders and tanks. Operator-driven equipment: tractors, trucks, combines, sprayers, etc.
Stationary sites pose placement challenges. Not every yard has poles or high enough points for overhead lighting and it truly can be a challenge to reach the tops of many high bins with any type of light not attached to them. The areas of safety concern for stationary sites are travel areas, moving equipment (belts, augers, motors) and areas where workers will be climbing or walking.
Travel areas should have clear sight lines for travel paths making it easy for equipment and trucks to move to the different areas. These lights should not be such that they blind the operator but illuminate the area in which they will be working. Reducing glare and shadows ensures people and equipment are as visible as possible for safety.
Movable equipment is often used in travel areas but not always. The lighting required for them should be specific to the task at hand. Directional lighting for augers as well as general lighting for safe operations. Some lights mount on the auger to illuminate and others are directional and can be mounted on the roof of a truck or tractor. These are especially handy when they come with a remote control for changing direction and angle. Service trucks, extractors and baggers have similar lighting needs. General lighting for operators, and specific target lighting for alignment.
Operator-driven equipment should have the right amount of lights for the job. Being visible and illuminating blind spots when an operator is outside of their cab is especially important for safety in low light and night operations. Lighting should be adjustable and enough lights used to provide clear safe access to equipment.
Un-mounted lights such as magnetic flashlights and cap-mounted lights increase the operator’s view and visibility. Many jackets and hats come with reflective stripes already in the fabric wearing these adds to a worker’s visibility.
Generally cameras are used to check on equipment, guide equipment or monitor. They also can be excellent tools for safety. Being able to see behind or beside gives operators an extra opportunity to check for ground workers and safety hazards. Cameras for equipment have day and night capabilities, which allow for greater vision. By learning to look at what the monitors show in a critical way, operators can learn to identify hazards.
However there is a challenge to using cameras and lights when working — they are only tools towards working safely. There will still be blind spots and shadows, equipment operators and ground workers should be aware of blind spots and stay away from them.
Before anything is engaged, moved or turned on all personnel should be visually accounted for. Letting everyone on the crew know the expectation of being accounted for shows your investment in their safety. Let your operators know where the ground crew will gather, set an all clear signal and get back to work.