Encourage Safer Fuel Practices on the Farm, Especially During Harvest

Dan Miller
By  Dan Miller , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
Refueling might seem like just a routine task on the farm, but it has some dangers that people should be aware of and try to avoid by using safer practices. (DTN file photo by Jim Patrico)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Every farm has probably experienced this at some point: In the rush of refueling trucks and tractors during harvest time, or perhaps when filling a big gas tank on the back of the half-ton truck to get fuel to machinery on the field, attention is temporarily distracted.

Tanks are overfilled, several gallons of fuel are accidentally spilled, and suddenly there is extra work to clean it up as well as added cost from the lost fuel.

Or perhaps you needed a break to grab a quick bite to eat from the house -- so you asked one of your children to stand by the fuel tanks and keep an eye on the filling fuel tank for a few minutes.

There's also probably been a few generations of farmers that saw gasoline as just another handy tool around the farm -- like to rinse hands in it to get stubborn paint off hands or splash some fuel on plowed brush or a garbage pile to help get a fire going.

All of these are examples of why there's a need to encourage safer practices for storing and using fuel. During harvest time, when there's more of a rush and greater chance of younger or inexperienced laborers helping to get the crop in, it's even more important to review fuel safety practices.

The Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) had tips specifically for refueling a tractor.

CCOHS tips around tractors included:

-- Post "No Smoking" signs in all fuel storage and handling areas.

-- Have fire extinguishers and other firefighting equipment near.

-- Shut off engine and allow it to cool.

-- Fuel tractor outside. Store fuel outside and away from buildings. Keep area free of vegetation or other burnable material.

-- Position yourself so you cannot slip.

-- Remove the fuel cap slowly, holding it at the semi-locked position until pressure is released.

-- Keep the nozzle in the filler opening for a few moments after shutting off fuel flow to allow the nozzle to empty.

-- Check that the filter cap vent is not clogged before replacing the filter cap.

-- Allow fuel to evaporate before closing hood that covers fuel tank.

-- Do not smoke or have an open flame while refueling. Gas fumes are heavier than air and will drift downward. The vapor, not the liquid, burns.

-- Do not spill any fuel on a tractor. If you do, wipe it up and allow any residue to dry before starting the engine.

-- Do not run if your clothing catches fire. Drop to the ground and roll slowly or wrap yourself in a blanket.

CENEX, in its harvest safety checklist, noted that sometimes refueling seems like such a routine task that it's easy to forget about its dangers.

Some of CENEX's tips are:

-- Don't multitask -- refueling is not the time to complete other chores or tasks.

-- Stay close to the tank so you can act quickly if something goes awry.

-- Don't overfill the fuel tank -- 95 percent full is a good rule of thumb for all vehicle and container types.

-- Turn off the engine completely and, if there's a chance the equipment could roll, chock the wheels.

-- Clean up any spills immediately.

Last year, the company Scepter offered 30 safety tips for children and adults, including ones for selecting a fuel container, fueling up at the pump, using fuel for outdoor chores, what not to do for outside activities, how to store fuel, and disposing old fuel.

Here are the tips from Scepter:


-- Inspect your existing fuel container regularly for leaks or cracks. If you see any signs of aging, carefully dispose of the container and purchase a new one.

-- If you need to buy a new fuel container, seek out one with controllable flow, child safety features and Flame Mitigation Device (FMD) for safety. Even with an FMD on a unit, fire and fuel should never be mixed.

-- Only purchase fuel containers from trusted brands that are available from top retailers both in store and online.

-- Once you have a new fuel container, do not remove or alter the FMD inside the opening of the container in any way.


-- Put only the proper fuel in the proper container. Universally, red containers are for gasoline, blue containers are for kerosene, and yellow containers are for diesel.

-- Before going to the pumps, look at the products you require fuel for, since not all fuels are the same. Select the right fuel for your outdoor power equipment. Do not use fuel that has a higher-than-recommended ethanol content for your equipment.

-- Never allow children to operate pumps or fill up fuel containers. Never smoke when filling a gas tank or fuel container.

-- Make sure to follow proper filling instructions for containers with FMDs (Scepter has some videos at…)

-- Remove fuel containers from vehicles before refilling, also turn off your vehicle's engine. Place containers on the ground a safe distance from a vehicle when refilling. Do not leave the containers in the back of a pickup truck or in the trunk of a car when filling.

-- Look for a "fuel fill line" on your container. Never fill past this mark. Leaving some space in the container allows for expansion.

-- Fuel containers can build up a static electric charge during transport. Touch the container with the gas dispenser nozzle before removing the container lid to ground the static electricity charge.

-- Keep the nozzle in contact with the container when filling it to prevent buildup of a static charge. If a static-caused fire occurs, leave the nozzle in the fill pipe. Immediately move away from the vehicle and notify the station attendant if you're at a gas station.

-- Carefully wipe away any fuel spills, either during the filling of the container or when using the container.

-- Secure your filled fuel containers in your vehicle against tipping and sliding. Never leave containers in a car trunk or flat bed and keep out of direct sunlight.


-- Use fuel outside only, in well-ventilated areas where you will not breathe in the fumes.

-- Do not smoke when using fuel or when near a fuel container. One spark can cause gasoline vapors to ignite.

-- Never fuel a piece of equipment while it is running. Gasoline is a fluid with fumes that can generate dangerous explosive power. Keep gasoline away from ignition sources and hot or running equipment.

-- If you run out of fuel during a project, like cutting the grass, let the hot motor cool down before adding more fuel. This eliminates the risk that fuel is accidentally spilled on a hot surface. If this happens, the fuel or fumes could ignite and potentially explode.

-- Should a flammable liquid spill in or outside the home, there can be a vapor or fire hazard. Immediately contact your fire department or local authorities for full cleaning instructions and restrict access to the spill area from children and pets.

-- Do not siphon any type of fuel by mouth. Instead, invest in a siphon pump.


-- Gasoline is not a lighter fluid. Never try to start or accelerate a bonfire, barbeque, or grill with gasoline.

-- Do not allow children near fuel containers or running equipment.

-- Don't guess. Check beforehand to determine the type of fuel recommended for your outdoor lawn and sports equipment. Follow all safety recommendations by the product's manufacturer. And, if you use a specific container for a fuel/oil mix, make sure to mark the container with a permanent marker to remind yourself what this container holds for future use.

-- Use only appropriate pesticides for killing ant hills, wasp nests and beehives. Never use any type of fuel for this purpose.

-- Gasoline should never be used as a cleaning agent, or to wash hands.

-- Choose the right container for outdoor activities. (For example, some containers might be better for family chores, others are easy to transport and designed for boating needs.)


-- When not in use, store any filled fuel containers in a secure, dry location away from pets and easy access by children. Never store filled fuel containers in a vehicle or in living space, like a home or trailer.

-- When storing in a garage, make sure to store fuel containers away from furnaces, hot water tanks and any other potential source of heat.


-- Know your fuel. Winter fuel is heavier, and a unique blend. Fuel available in the spring and summer is different and should be used for lawn care and sporting equipment.

-- Dispose of any winter mix of gasoline stored in containers by putting it in your car with a funnel. The small amount of winter fuel will easily mix in with the gasoline in your tank.


For more fuel safety tips, see:

-- American Petroleum Institute's Staying Safe at the Pump, at…

-- National Safety Council's Practice Caution When Handling Fuel, at…

-- Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety's checklist of fuel safety tips, at… and for some specific on what to do when refueling a tractor at….

-- CENEX's harvest safety checklist can be found at…

Elaine Shein can be reached at


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