Ag Safety STAT : Safety Through the Seasons 2021

Ag Safety S.T.A.T. – Safe Tactics for Ag Today is prepared by the OSU Extension Agricultural Safety & Health Office. The goal is to provide seasonal safety news and activities that may be re-published in your own newsletters or programs. If you have safety-related questions or program ideas that you would like to share, please contact Dee Jepsen at

  1. Vomitoxin in Corn Grain Bins

    N95 respirator

    Mark Badertscher, OSU Extension, Hardin County ANR Educator; with information from Pierce Paul, OSU Extension, Corn & Wheat Disease Specialist and Dee Jepsen, OSU Extension, Associate Professor and State Agricultural Safety Leader.

    Currently there is a lot of activity unloading grain bins and hauling corn to market. Cash bids are very good, the weather has broken after several weeks of cold temperatures and snow, and we have begun a new tax year for farmers. Considering the harvest of 2020, some producers may experience vomitoxin in their bins when unloading and cleaning out this past harvest’s corn crop. Since this week has been Nationwide Insurance Grain Bin Safety Week, this article will draw attention to on-farm and other grain storage safety when working with corn that has high levels of vomitoxin.

    Some localized areas of Ohio experienced fields with Gibberella ear rot (GER) that was more than likely contaminated with mycotoxins. Infection of the ear, development of visual symptoms (ear rot), and contamination of grain with vomitoxin all depend on weather conditions during the weeks after silk emergence. Once the fungus enters the ear via the silks (infection) and begins to colonize the developing grain, it produces vomitoxin, even if subsequent weather conditions are not favorable for mold and ear rot to develop on the outside of the ear. This is particularly true if infections occur late and conditions become relatively dry and unfavorable for visual symptoms to develop.

    Local markets such as ethanol plants, feed mills, and grain elevators test for vomitoxin levels in parts per million. Depending on the end use of the corn, these buyers will discount or reject loads at set levels of contamination. These levels increase with processing of the corn; and can cause significant issues when feeding to certain types of livestock. Severely diseased and toxin contaminated grain are usually smaller than healthy grain and covered with fugal mold. Compared to healthy grain, diseased grain kernels break easily during harvest, transport, and other forms of grain handling, increasing the number of fine particles and the amount of dust in the grain lot. 

    In the fall, it is recommended that fields with ear rot problems should be harvested as soon as possible and handled separately from healthy fields, even if it means harvesting those fields at a higher-than-usual moisture content. Adjusting the combine to minimize damage to the grain and increasing the fan speed will help to remove lightweight grain and dust particles, and as a result, reduce the level of mycotoxin in the grain. Once harvested, grain should be dried down to below 15% moisture with storage in a clean dry bin.

    Unfortunately, there are no commercially available treatments to reduce vomitoxin levels in stored grain. Poor storage may cause toxin levels to increase. Warm, moist pockets in the grain promote mold development, causing the grain quality to deteriorate and toxin levels to increase. Aeration is important to keep the grain dry and cool. However, it should be noted that while cool temperatures, air circulation, and low moisture levels will minimize fungal growth and toxin production, these will not decrease the level of toxin that was already present in grain at the time of storage. When selling grain, corn that has been tested with vomitoxin should be sold as soon as possible.

    Dry and store harvested grain to below 15% moisture or lower to minimize further mold development and toxin contamination in storage. Store dried grain at cool temperatures (36 to 44°F) in clean, dry bins. Moderate to high temperatures are favorable for fungal growth and toxin production. Periodically check grain for mold, insects, and temperature. If mold is found, send a grain sample for mold identification and analysis to determine if toxins are present and at what level. Clean bins and storage units between grain lots to reduce cross-contamination.

    Harvesting and handling moldy grain may expose farmers to mycotoxin and other moldy conditions in the grain dust. Dust in grain harvested from GER-affected fields contain a mixture of tiny pieces of grain, husks, and cobs, all of which may be contaminated with vomitoxin, as well as pieces of fungal mycelium (mold). In fact, husks and cobs are usually more contaminated with mycotoxins than the grain. Breathing grain dust can have adverse effects on the human respiratory system. When the dust is also suspect of mycotoxins, it is especially necessary to take precautions.

    Wearing a disposable, 2-strap N95 mask (respirator) helps protect the worker from breathing in dusty, moldy and toxic substances. This type of personal protection equipment will filter out at least 95% of the dust and mold in the air. The 1-strap mask does not have this level of protection, and is basically worthless in agricultural environments. The COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult to purchase the recommended respirators for agricultural work. The suppliers have increased manufacturing of these items; however, some local outlets are still limited in their product availability due to an increased need to service medical personnel.

    If disposable masks are not available, consider a reusable quarter face mask with interchangeable cartridges. P100 filters may be more readily accessible for online purchases. Quarter masks, with replaceable cartridges, may also be more economical in the long term because of their multi-functional applications in agricultural settings. Either an N95 or P100 respirator are the best forms of protection from moldy and dusty grain dust. Protect yourself and all workers exposed to grain dust while both harvesting and handling suspect corn.

    For more information on respirators for farm use, consult the OSU Extension Factsheet: Dust and Mold, AEX 892.2.11,

    Mark Badertscher, ANR Educator Hardin County, can be reached at 419-767-6037 or This column is provided by the OSU Agricultural Safety and Health Team.

  2. Pull the Strings Before Working Around the Bin

    Image of drawstrings that can easily become entangled in augers, PTO shafts, and other rotating equipment.

    Richard Purdin, OSU Extension, Adams County ANR/CD Educator

    The Week of February 21st is recognized as grain bin safety week. Many producers will be working in or around grain storage structures to fulfill marketing contracts or sell their 2020 crop to purchase crop inputs for the upcoming 2021 growing season. During this time of year producers will most likely be wearing multiple layers of clothing in the cold weather conditions. Winter clothing such as hooded sweaters also called hoodies have become very popular on the farm due to being comfortable and the ability to easily take on and off. Hooded sweaters contain drawstrings that are used to tighten the hood around the wearers face and neck. Most producers don’t think about these strings being a hazard, but they can cause severe injury or even death if entangled or caught in moving augers, PTO shafts, or other moving equipment.

    Danger Zones around the Grain Bin

    The grain storage structure has many danger zones or areas that can serve as high risk to one's health and well being. Loose hanging strings, baggy clothing, or other loose clothing such as necklaces or wallet chains can easily become entangled in loading augers, unloading augers, PTO shafts, and exposed belts/chains.

    Maintain Equipment Shields

    Shields and safety signage are placed on equipment for your safety, never remove shields unless for service or repair. NEVER lean over or step over moving PTO shafts or augers.

    Educate The Next Generation

    Young adults working on the farm need to be educated on areas to avoid when working around the grain bin. Never let young children play inside or outside of the grain bin structure. Remember that it is a hazardous work area and accidents can happen fast. 

    Ways to Avoid Entanglement

    • Remove strings from hooded sweaters.
    • Cut strings from tattered or torn jeans, and other clothing.
    • Always wear tight-fitted clothing
    • Take necklaces, wrist bands, or other loose forms of other clothing off before working around grain bins.
    • Disengage all operating equipment and allow time for all moving parts to stop before servicing and or repairing.


    Richard Purdin, ANR/CD Educator Adams County, can be reached at 937-544-2339 or This column is provided by the OSU Extension Agricultural Safety and Health Team.

  3. Is it pandemic fatigue, winter blues, or Seasonal affective disorder?

    Laura Akgerman, Disability Services Coordinator / Ohio AgrAbility Coordinator

    It’s wintertime. The temperatures are cold, the days are short, and the nights are long. You have work to do, but you just don’t feel like doing it. The good news is that the shortest day of the year is behind us, and we are getting a few minutes more daylight every day. If you have been feeling down and unmotivated for a few weeks or months, it could be the 2020/winter blues, or it could be Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is estimated to affect 10 million Americans. SAD can cause you to feel depressed most of the day, on most days. SAD can cause you to have lower energy, lack of interest in activities you usually enjoy, or feelings of guilt, worthlessness or hopelessness. SAD can also cause trouble with motivation, not sleeping, sleeping too much, trouble getting of bed or working. 

    SAD is more severe than the 2020 blues, it is a real type of depression, and it can be managed and treated. Treatments include medication, light therapy, and counseling. If you have prolonged feelings of hurting yourself or others, or thoughts of suicide, please seek medical attention. Even if your symptoms are not severe, talking to a counselor can help you manage your SAD symptoms. A list of county-level Mental Health Resource Guides is available at the OSU Center for Public Health Practice.

    At home SAD management techniques include yoga, tai chi, meditation, guided imagery, music or art therapy and exercise. Make your environment sunnier and brighter - open your curtains or blinds and let the light into your home. Get outside and take a walk, or sit in the sun (wear sunscreen, even winter sun can cause damage). Fortunately, SAD does not typically last into the summer, and every day we are getting a little more daylight. Don’t ignore SAD symptoms, talk to friends and family, or a mental health professional.

    Laura Akgerman, Disability Services Coordinator and Ohio AgrAbility Coordinator, can be reached at (614) 292-0622 or This column is provided by the OSU Extension Agricultural Safety and Health Team.

  4. Using Heat Lamps: Proceed with Caution!

    Sabrina Schirtzinger, ANR Educator Knox County

    As temperatures get cold livestock owners search for ways to keep their livestock warm. Often livestock owners are in a hurry and think hanging a heat lamp will be temporary. In a hurry they quickly hang the heat lamp up in the corner of a stall using baling twine to keep a newborn kid or day-old chicks warm for the night. This is an accident waiting to happen! With any electrical appliance or heating source they need to be used carefully. 

    If you must use a heat lamp, follow these tips:

    1. Purchase a quality heat lamp. Use lamps that are enclosed with a heat lamp guard. If using a lamp outdoors, make sure the lamp is labeled for outdoor use. 
    2. Use high- quality bulbs. Low quality bulbs such as thin glass can shatter.  
    3. Periodically check to make sure that the bulb is tightly secured. 
    4. Avoid using bulbs over 250W. 
    5. Secure the lamp to a panel using chain or a heat lamp clamp. Recommended distance from the lamp to ground or livestock is 20”. 
    6. Make sure the lamp is secured high enough that adult livestock cannot abuse (head butt, kick, or bash) the fixture.
    7. Plug your heat lamp into an Arc Fault Interrupter breaker which will trip if the fixture sparks. 
    8. Keep a fire extinguisher in the barn in case a problem arises. 
    9. Install a loud smoke detector that can be heard at the house that will help to alert you of a fire. 
    10. Never lay a heat lamp on a flammable surface. 

    There will be cases where you cannot avoid using a heat lamp. In those situations, never leave a heat lamp unattended overnight.  

    Sabrina Schirtzinger, ANR Educator Knox County, can be reached at 740-397-0401 or This column is provided by the OSU Extension Agricultural Safety and Health Team,

  5. Avoiding the Emergency Room This Winter

    Richard Purdin ANR/CD Educator Adams County

    Winter is here and with winter comes inclement weather, unfortunately farmers and ranchers must tend to their chores no matter what mother nature may throw at them. The farm is filled with hazards and risk for slipping and falling.  During winter, this risk is elevated due to ice, wind, snow, and extreme low temperatures. In 2017 OSHA reported that 20% of workplace injuries were caused by slipping and falling in winter weather conditions.  Precautions need to be taken when working in the winter elements. No matter how important a task may seem, it is never more important than your health and safety. Here are just a few considerations and hints to help you avoid spending your new years in the hospital.

    • Be aware of your environment. Before heading out make sure to check weather conditions and be aware of any forecast changes that may take place throughout the day.
    • Dress appropriately for different weather conditions.  Wear proper footwear with non-slip tread. Sunglasses or transition lenses help reduce snow blindness.
    • Take your time- once you are outside be sure to allocate extra time to complete your task. Avoid running and quick changes in direction.
    • Avoid carrying heavy and bulky material – even if it means making an extra trip, carrying light, small loads help you maintain balance and vision.
    • If possible, store tractors, and other farm machinery in a barn- this will eliminate ice and snow developing on steps, ladders, and entry doors. Remember to mount or enter equipment using 3-point approach (2 feet/1 hand or 2 hands/1 foot).
    • Always have essential supplies on hand- this includes salt, shovel, and scrapers to clear ice and snow from walkways and other heavily utilized areas around the farm.
    • Maintain water drainage- make sure rainwater from feedlots, machinery sheds, grain bins/silos, and roadways do not pool in one spot. This can go a long way in avoiding a slipping hazard when the water freezes.
    • Be extra alert when working around livestock – keep extra distance from livestock in conditions that may allow them to slip and fall.
    • Be extra cautious around livestock watering facilities and manure platforms or push off ramps. Splashing water or liquid manure can freeze and create a slipping hazard.

    Other resources can be found at

    Richard Purdin, ANR / CD Educator Adams County, can be reached at 937-544-2339 or This column is provided by the OSU Agricultural Safety and Health Team.

  6. Winter Weather Preparedness on the Farm

    Wayne Dellinger, ANR Educator Union County

    With the turn of the calendar year coming off a year with a record setting number of tropical storms, what should we expect for early 2021?  OSU Extension Climate Specialist Aaron Wilson and most others agree that Ohio will likely experience below normal temperatures and average to possibly above average snowfall depending on how scenarios evolve. 

    How do we prepare the farm for such conditions?  Take advantage of daylight, when temperatures are warmer, and when weather is favorable to winterize equipment and buildings.  This is also a good time for routine maintenance so there is less probability of breakdowns needing repair when conditions are less than favorable. 

    Keep an eye on the weather.  Being aware of not only the short-term forecast, but also the long-term forecast is as important in the winter as it is in the Spring when trying to get crops in the ground.  Before a heavy snow falls, it is beneficial to clearly mark where drives are and especially where any lagoons and ponds are located.  This will assist those less familiar with the layout of the farmstead to avoid dangerous situations.

    Be prepared for the unexpected with livestock.  Do not wait until temperatures are below freezing to shop for a water tank heater.  You will most likely find an empty shelf.  Have water tank heaters ready as well as any heat lamps that may be necessary for farrowing, lambing, kidding, etc.  Have a contingency plan for power outages that will allow you to get water to livestock.  Depending on the forecast, you may want some extra supplies of feed and bedding material in case trips to town and deliveries may be delayed or not possible.

    Take care of yourself!  Layer clothing so depending on the amount of physical labor you are performing you may remain comfortable.  Ensure your head and hands are always warm.  Even as in the summer, be mindful to stay hydrated and avoid over-exertion.  When using alternate power and heating sources, be mindful of carbon monoxide buildup and provide adequate ventilation.  At all times, let someone know where you will be working.

    Being prepared increases safety, reduces stress, and facilitates smooth operation in less than ideal circumstances.

    Wayne Dellinger, ANR Educator Union County, can be reached at 937-644-8117 ex. 3024 or This column is provided by the OSU Agricultural Safety and Health Team.