Q & A with Clarke McGrath on harvest safety

September 20, 2016 10:16 AM
Blog Post

Sept. 18-24 is National Farm Safety and Health Week and Iowa Farm Safety and Health Week. Clarke McGrath, on-farm research and extension coordinator for the Iowa Soybean Research Center and extension agronomist at Iowa State University, provides farm safety tips during harvest, based on his experience as a firefighter, EMT, and involvement in the agriculture industry.

Q- What thoughts on harvest safety would you have as an agronomist and recently retired firefighter?

A-I’m pretty young to be a retired firefighter. The accident that I wasn’t supposed to survive—which sent me into early retirement from my firefighting career—was a prime example of how fast something can happen with no warning. And yet, it was easily preventable if the other party had followed safety protocols. Throughout my career in the fire service, I've been involved in a lot of farm related responses since serving in areas that covered both city and rural incidents. From experience and seeing it first hand, I can tell you that accidents occur incredibly fast and can happen to anyone. It is true that we can do everything exactly right and still there is a chance of something going wrong, but the odds of something going wrong can escalate quickly when we increase risk by not following safety procedures as closely as feasible. So I don’t want to come across as a safety expert, just want to help raise awareness and hope that if all of us implement a few more safety procedures or exercise a little more patience, it will reduce risk, which should reduce incidents and injuries.

Q-Have you known anyone personally that has suffered from farm-related health issues?

A-Remember to wear a good quality dust mask/respirator as often as possible. I have an acquaintance who has pretty severe COPD. It is tough to watch someone- who was one of the hardest workers I ever knew- struggle to walk across a parking lot because he cannot get enough air. He tells me “I wish I had worn a dust mask, but for years we really didn’t hear a lot about needing to wear one. There just wasn’t a lot of awareness out there about it.”

Q-Any particular safety tips for employees, family, or farm kids?

A-Know where everyone is on site. Visibility is tough around large machinery--nearly impossible at night. Don’t let folks ride on equipment that isn’t designed for a passenger, and don’t let them operate something that they aren’t well trained on either. Keep kids away from any grain carts or bins. Stored and/or flowing grain is inherently hazardous, whether in a bin, a pile or a grain cart.

Q-My family members are very involved during harvest season. What can I do to be prepared or prepare them if there is a farm accident this fall?

A-The last three things here have extra significance to me because I have experienced and seen first-hand how they save lives, no question.

  • Donated blood, if you can.
  • Carry a cell phone or two-way radio. Make sure it’s charged and secured on your person at all times.
  • Learn CPR

Look for more safety tips from McGrath throughout the week!

Photo by Daren Mueller

Related articles:
Staying Safe During Anhydrous Ammonia Season

Related publications:
Review Family Farm Safety Rules
Farm Safety for Young Children


Clarke McGrath On-Farm Research and Extension Coordinator - Iowa Soybean Research Center

Clarke McGrath currently serves as the On-Farm Research and Extension Coordinator.

Prior to joining Iowa State University, McGrath spent nearly a decade as a retail agronomist and manager in the GROWMARK system, earni...