Lightning Protection Systems

Use the following format to cite this article:

Lightning protection systems. (2014) Farm and Ranch eXtension in Safety and Health (FReSH) Community of Practice. Retrieved from 


Lightning protection systems are recommended for all barns to reduce the risk of damage sustained from a lightning strike. Thunderstorms involving lightning occur across the United States but are most prevalent in central and eastern states. Lightning is a stream of pure energy, approximately 1/2- to 3/4-inch wide and surrounded by 4 inches of extremely hot air, that is looking for the path of least resistance between the clouds and the ground. The amperage from a lightning flash can be approximately 2,000 times greater than the current in a typical home.

Lightning and Potential Damage

The powerful force of lightning can ignite fires in buildings, damage electrical equipment, and electrocute humans and livestock. Typically, lightning enters a building by striking a metal object on the roof, directly striking the building, hitting a tree or structure (for example, a silo) that causes the strike to jump to a nearby building, or striking a power line or wire fence that provides a path into the structure. You can protect your farm or ranch structures by installing a lightning protection system, which will direct a strike away from your buildings and dissipate the strike in a safe manner.

Lightning Protection System Components

Barn Protection

(Source: Penn State Ag Safety & Health)

A lightning protection system consists of the following five parts: air terminals (lightning rods), conductors, ground connections (electrodes), bonding, and lightning arrestors.

Air terminals. Air terminals, or lightning rods, are metal rods or tubes installed at every projecting high point of a building—such as the peak, a dormer, a flagpole, or a water tank—to intercept a lightning bolt. Solid copper rods should be a minimum of 3/8-inch in diameter, and solid aluminum rods should be a minimum of 1/2-inch in diameter. Rods should extend between 10 and 36 inches above the projecting object. Typically, rods are 10 to 24 inches long; extra support or a brace is needed for a rod that is more than 24 inches long. The most effective spacing is 20 feet apart for rods that are less than 24 inches long or 25 feet apart for rods that are between 24 and 36 inches long. Additionally, a rod should be located within 24 inches of the end of any building ridge or projecting object. Strategic placement of rods on a structure ensures that lightning will strike the rods rather than another part of the building.

Conductors. Conductors, which are copper or aluminum cables, provide the connection between the air terminals and the earth to direct the lightning strike deep into the earth where it can safely dissipate. Choose copper or aluminum rather than a combination of the two because galvanic or chemically corrosive action can occur between the two elements. Main conductors connect all of the lightning rods with the down conductors and then connect to the ground connections.

Ground connections. Ground connections, or electrodes, provide contact with the ground to safely dissipate the lightning charge. A minimum of two ground connections should be used for most buildings; additional ones may be needed for larger structures. The type of ground connection may depend on the conductivity of the soil in your area. Ground electrodes should be 1/2-inch diameter, 10-foot long copper-clad steel or solid copper rods driven at least 8 feet into the ground.

Bonding. Bonding involves branch conductors that protect against sideflashes by connecting metal objects (such as ventilation fans, water pipes, and so on) with the grounding system. Common grounding can eliminate lightning sideflashes. Grounding is achieved when all electrical systems, telephone systems, and underground metal piping are connected to the lightning protection system.

Lightning arrestors. Lightning arrestors provide protection against a strike entering your building through the electrical wiring system and thereby causing potential power surges that may result in severe damage to electrical devices. To provide the best possible protection, lightning arrestors should be installed on the building’s exterior where the electrical service enters the building or at the interior service entrance. 

Protection of Livestock and Trees

Examine your farm or ranch with a certified installer to determine whether lightning protection should be extended to protect valuable trees; trees located within 10 feet of a structure, such as a silo; or trees used for shade by livestock. If livestock stand under a tree, they can be killed by a direct lightning strike to the tree or from contact with resultant charged soil. To avoid this scenario, consider removing trees favored by livestock, fencing livestock away from trees, or providing protection with a conductor system. 

Lightning protection for a tree involves placing air terminals at the tips of the main trunk and attaching a full-size grounding cable to a ground rod. The ground rod should be located away from the tree’s root system. Air terminals with smaller cables can be attached to main branches. If the tree is 3 feet in diameter or larger, use two ground rods attached to the main conductor system.

Protection of Fencing

Lightning can travel up to 2 miles along an ungrounded wire fence, posing a threat to humans and livestock. Fences may be attached to wooden posts, steel posts set in concrete or to buildings, and even trees (not recommended). In all circumstances, the fence should be grounded to safely route the lightning’s voltage into the earth. To ground a fence, drive 1/2-inch steel rods or 3/4-inch pipe 5 to 10 feet into the ground next to wooden fence posts at intervals of 150 feet. Allow a few inches of the ground rod or pipe to extend past the top of the adjacent fence post. Attach the rod or pipe to the fence post with pipe straps to ensure a tight connection.

System Installation and Maintenance

A certified installer should install your lightning protection system to reduce the risk of a system failure and to ensure that your system meets necessary codes and standards. The Lightning Protection Institute certifies systems meeting all its requirements. To maintain a system’s certification, regular maintenance and annual inspection must be completed. Damage due to high winds, building additions, and roof repairs or upgrades can alter a system’s performance. To locate a certified installer in your area, click one of the resource links below:

Lightning Protection Institute

Underwriters Laboratories


Click here for more information about structural lightning safety from the National Lightning Safety Institute.

Click the link below for more detailed information about the related topic.

Lightning Safety


Use the following format to cite this article:

Lightning protection systems. (2014) Farm and Ranch eXtension in Safety and Health (FReSH) Community of Practice. Retrieved from 




Chamberlain, D. and Hallman, E. (1995) Lightning protection for farms. Cornell Cooperative Extension. Retrieved from

Linn, R. (1993) Lightning protection for the farm. Montguide. Montana State University. No longer available online.

Murphy, D. (1988) Lightning protection for the farm. The Pennsylvania State University. Retrieved from

Specifications for lightning protection – ASAE engineering practice. (1998) The Disaster Handbook 1998 National Edition. University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Services. No longer available online.


Reviewed and Summarized by:
Linda M. Fetzer, Pennsylvania State University –
William C. Harshman, Pennsylvania State University (Has since retired)
Tom Karsky, University of Idaho (Has since retired)
Dennis J. Murphy, Pennsylvania State University (Has since retired)
Aaron M. Yoder, University of Nebraska Medical Center –

Lightning Safety

Photo of storm clouds approaching

Photos provided by the Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health (CS-CASH)


Lightning and thunderstorms typically occur during the spring and summer months. As human beings, we are great conductors of lightning because approximately 65 percent of the human body consists of salt and water. Lightning can cause injury or death to humans and animals, either by direct strike or transmission indirectly to and through the body. Also, it can cause structure fires.

Cloud-to-ground lightning can cause injuries by direct or indirect means because the current can branch off to a person from a nearby tree, fence, or other tall object. Lightning flashes can send a current through the ground to a person after hitting a nearby object, such as a tree. Additionally, injuries or death can occur due to fires or falling objects caused by a lightning strike.

Awareness and Preparation

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Weather Radio and local radio/television stations are the best sources for the latest forecasts and emergency updates in your area. Remember that a thunderstorm watch means that storms are possible whereas a thunderstorm warning means that severe weather has been reported by spotters or radar in your area. Even though it is not possible to have lightning without thunder, there are times when you cannot distinctively hear the thunder. When this happens, typically during the summer months, the lightning you see is called heat lightning. The term dry lightning refers to lightning that occurs without rain. This type of lightning can cause forest fires.

In preparation for thunder and lightning storms, you and your family should take the following actions:

  • Choose a place in the house where family members will meet in the event of a storm.
  • Make a list of specific items that need to be brought inside during a storm.
  • Keep trees and shrubbery trimmed and remove debris from around buildings to reduce the potential that items (for example, weak tree limbs) will become projectiles.
  • Ensure that you have a place where your animals can go to be protected.
  • Consider installing permanent shutters that can be closed easily and quickly for better protection.
  • Install lightning rods on your home, barn, and other structures that house animals. Also, install a lightning arrestor or diverter on any electric fence.

When and Where to Seek Shelter

The National Weather Service recommends using the 30/30 rule to know when to move to safety and when to return to your activities. If lightning is within six miles, locate a safe place and stay there until no lightning has been seen nor thunder heard for 30 minutes. The “flash to bang” count can determine the distance of the lightning. When you see lightning, start counting seconds (one one-thousand, two one-thousand, and so on) and stop when you hear the thunder. Every five seconds equals a mile, so move to safety if the count is less than 30 seconds.

Choose your safe place wisely. A fully enclosed metal vehicle or building is a safe shelter if the outer metal shield is not compromised. This means you should keep windows closed; avoid objects that penetrate from the outside to the inside; and in a vehicle, do not touch external objects such as door handles or radio knobs.  In a lightning storm, avoid water, high and open ground, metal spaces, canopies, picnic or rain shelters, trees, and electrical/electronic equipment. If you are in a structure that has curtains or blinds over windows, close them to prevent glass shards from flying into the structure from a broken window.

If you cannot find a safe shelter, place yourself as low as possible to the ground without lying on the ground. Seek low ground, such as a ditch, or crouch down with your feet together and your hands over your ears to protect your hearing.

During a lightning storm, take the following precautions:

  • Do not hold anything that can conduct electricity, such as a shovel, a hoe, or a golf club.
  • Do not operate farm equipment.
  • Avoid water! Do not take a bath or a shower or run water for any purpose (for example, to wash dishes). If you are swimming or boating, get out of the water.
  • Protect your electronics and electrical items from lightning strikes and power surges by unplugging televisions, computers, and other valuable appliances.
  • Avoid electric fences, clotheslines, metal pipes, rails, telephone poles, and other conductors.

Fires and Entrapments due to Lightning

An electrical fire can occur when an appliance or a tool catches on fire. If possible, unplug the appliance from the outlet; however, if doing so places you in danger, turn off the current at the fuse box. Use an ABC or BC fire extinguisher on an electrical fire, and remember never to pour water on an electrical fire. Leave the area, and contact your local fire department if the fire is more serious than a simple appliance fire. If you notice fallen electrical wires, report them immediately to the police or local utility company. If you find someone trapped in a vehicle by fallen wires, tell the person to stay in the vehicle without touching any metal parts of the car while you go for help.

Injury Types and First Aid

Most lightning strike victims survive, but common injuries include burns, broken bones, heart attacks, and neurological damage. Short-term effects of lightning strike include memory loss, chronic headaches, ringing in the ears, fatigue, personality changes, muscle spasms, joint stiffness, numbness, sleep difficulties, and dizziness. Additional injuries can be caused by fires or objects that fall after being struck by lightning.

First aid needs to be started immediately after a lightning strike. If the person is conscious, check his or her breathing and pulse. If there is no pulse, begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Check the victim for additional injuries, such as fractures, but do not move the person if you suspect a spinal injury. If the victim sustained an electrical burn, cover the burned area with a dry, sterile dressing. Remember to look for multiple burn areas because separate burned areas may exist where the current entered and exited the victim’s body. Also look for burned areas on the person’s extremities (fingers and toes) and on areas next to buckles or jewelry. Contact your local emergency responders. Even if a person does not appear to be injured, he or she still should be seen by a medical professional.


Click here for more information about personal lightning safety from the National Lightning Safety Institute.

Click here for more information about NOAA Weather Radio.

Click here for information about lightning safety for outdoor workers from the National Lightning Safety Institute.

Click the link below for more detailed information about the related topic.

Lightning Protection Systems



Cyr, D. and Johnson, S. (2003) Lightning safety. University of Maine Cooperative Extension. Retrieved from

Kithil, R. (n.d.) Decision tree for personal lightning safety. National Lightning Safety Institute. Retrieved from

Thunderstorm safety. (n.d.) American Red Cross. Retrieved from

Thunderstorm safety checklist. (2009) American Red Cross. Retrieved from….

Reviewed and Summarized by:
Linda M. Fetzer, Pennsylvania State University –
William C. Harshman, Pennsylvania State University (Has since retired)
Tom Karsky, University of Idaho (Has since retired)
Dennis J. Murphy, Pennsylvania State University (Has since retired)
Aaron M. Yoder, University of Nebraska Medical Center –

Silo Fire Prevention and Management

Rescue trucks at silo

Photo source: Penn State University


Use the following format to cite this article:
Silo fire prevention and management. (2015) Farm and Ranch eXtension in Safety and Health (FReSH) Community of Practice. Retrieved from….

Because the ingredients needed for a fire to occur are present in silos, agricultural producers who have silos should take steps to minimize the likelihood of silo fires and be prepared to manage silo fires should they occur. Fire prevention steps are similar regardless of what type of silo you have. The approach to managing a fire, however, is based on the type of silo in which the fire is burning.

Ingredients for Fire

Three ingredients are needed for anything to burn: a heat source, air, and fuel.

  • The heat source for a silo fire is bacterial action within the silage. When forage material is cut, bacterial action on the forage begins. This action produces heat until all the oxygen in the pile is consumed. Microorganisms are killed at 250°F–400°F, causing a breakdown in the forage through an oxidation process called pyrolysis. Pyrolysis allows oxygen in the silo to support a smoldering fire that can result in charred cavities in the silage. Once the oxygen is consumed, the fermentation process begins and continues until the forage becomes stable. 
  • The air source for a silo fire includes air that is trapped in chopped forage during harvest and air that blows into the silo. The dryer the material, the more trapped air there is.
  • The fuel source for a silo fire is the silage, although it typically is not a highly effective fuel source because of its moisture content. Even dry silage is too wet to burn quickly.

Causes of Silo Fires

The three main types of upright silos found on farm operations are conventional, oxygen-limiting, and modified oxygen-limiting. Typically, silo fires occur more frequently in conventional silos than in oxygen-limiting silos because oxygen is present in greater amounts in conventional silos. Many silo fires occur in the top layer (approximately the top 10 feet) of dry, loosely packed silage. Such fires can be the result of an overheating unloader motor but more often are caused by spontaneous combustion. Spontaneous combustion can occur when new silage having a too-low moisture content (less than 45%) is placed in the silo, when fresh silage is placed on top of old silage, or when the silo has poorly maintained doors and walls. Putting new silage on top of old silage is especially risky if the old silage is too dry. The dryer the material is, the more air that will be trapped when fresh, wetter material is placed on top of it. That trapped air can allow excessive heating and support a smoldering fire.

A silo fire can start from a source outside the silo as well. The two most common examples of these types of fires are a fire in the chute from a shorted-out electrical wire or a fire from an adjacent barn fire.

Prevention of Silo Fires

Prevention of silo fires involves performing proper maintenance on silos and unloaders and taking appropriate steps when harvesting and storing forages.

Silo and Unloader Maintenance

When a silo is empty, inspect the silo walls (especially the lower 10–15 inches), the silo doors, and the unloader system. Make any necessary repairs. If you have an oxygen-limiting silo, pressure-test it on a regular basis (at least once every other year, preferably when empty). If air is allowed to leak into an oxygen-limiting silo, forage quality can decline, and the chance of a fire developing increases. Many fires have started in oxygen-limiting silos that have been unused for several years but not emptied.

For the unloader system, examine belts, bearings, wiring, and the motor. Lubricate the lift cables, and immediately replace any lift cable showing signs of kinks, cuts, or corrosion. Check for damaged insulation or terminals on the unloader power cable, and repair or replace damaged materials as needed.

Harvesting and Storage Recommendations

Implementing the following steps for harvesting and storing forages will decrease the risk of a silo fire occurring:

  1. Minimize drying time to reduce respiration.
  2. Chop forage at the correct theoretical length cut (TLC). The TLC for hay crop silage is 3/8 inch; the TLC for corn silage is 1/4 inch. Follow the silo manufacturer’s recommendations.
  3. Ensile at 30%–50% dry matter content (i.e., 50%–70% moisture content), based on the silo manufacturer’s recommendations. Using this approach will optimize fermentation.
  4. Leave the silo sealed for at least 14 days to allow complete fermentation to occur.
  5. Unload 2–6 inches per day, and maintain a smooth surface. Using this unloading schedule will help you stay ahead of any spoilage. Spoilage is caused by the bacterial action that can cause heating.
  6. Discard deteriorated silage. Performing this step will help eliminate a fuel source for potential fires and minimize animal health problems.

Management of Silo Fires

Managing silo fires involves monitoring silage to detect a fire early, taking the proper steps when you suspect or discover that a fire is burning, and understanding how fires in different types of silos are extinguished.

Monitoring of Silage

Silage is costly to replace, so one of the main goals of managing a silo fire is to locate the fire and control the area so that only a minimum amount of silage is affected. The first step in managing a silo fire is early detection, so monitor a silo for three weeks postharvest. This length of time is the critical period for fermentation and heating to occur. Because silage burns slowly, detecting a fire early allows you time to evaluate your options and develop a plan for addressing the fire.

Response to the Presence of a Fire

If you suspect or discover a silo fire, contact your local fire department immediately. A silo is a confined space, and firefighters are obligated to follow the US Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) Confined Space Standard for entry into a silo. When you contact the fire department, indicate the type of fire so that the fire department can dispatch the correct personnel and equipment (e.g., thermal imaging camera, infrared heat gun, self-contained breathing apparatus).

Wait for the fire service personnel to arrive. Do not enter the silo or climb the chute because unknown factors, such as fire gases or burning embers falling down the chute, may exist. Only rescue personnel with self-contained breathing apparatuses or supplied-air respirators should enter an upright silo because of toxic gases that can be present due to the fermentation process or the fire. The most typical gases in silos include carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, and nitrogen tetroxide. Additional gases can be present due to the burning of substances such as silo liners and epoxy coatings.

While waiting for fire service personnel to arrive on the scene, take the following steps:

  1. Close the bottom of the chute to reduce airflow that may be fanning the fire. Use sheet metal or another noncombustible material to close the chute.
  2. Remove all livestock from any exposed or adjacent buildings.
  3. Spray water to wet down the area around the silo chute to prevent the fire from spreading.
  4. Place noncombustible shields (metal siding, etc.) over any openings in the silo or chute to prevent sparks and embers from flying into or onto other buildings.

Fire Management Approaches for Various Silo Types

It is important to understand how silo fires are managed in various silo types. A fire in a conventional silo will not burn out; instead, it must be extinguished. A fire in oxygen-limiting silo may be managed so that it burns out, or it may have to be extinguished. To extinguish a silo fire, it is necessary to eliminate one of the ingredients needed for fire to occur. Trained fire service personnel are needed to extinguish a fire in any type of silo.

Conventional Silo

Because a conventional silo is not airtight, fire service personnel cannot smother the fire by eliminating the air source. The best approach is to locate the heat source and remove it. If possible, fire service personnel should avoid flooding the silo with water for the following reasons: doing so could ruin good feed; it is difficult to unload wet silage with an unloader; water can damage the silo; and the introduction of water can actually cause additional fires in the silo.

Oxygen-Limiting Silo

With proper management, you may be able to allow a fire in an oxygen-limiting silo to burn out. To reduce any additional air from entering the silo, close the top hatch cover (without latching it) and the bottom unloading door. CAUTION If the silo is heavily smoking or rumbling (vibrating), do not attempt to close the top hatch; rather stay off the silo! The assumption is that after you close the top hatch cover and bottom unloading door, no air will go into the silo, so the fire eventually will use up the residual air in the silo and burn out over time. However, this process can take up to three weeks. If this approach does not work, trained personnel—usually representatives of the silo manufacturer/dealer—can inject carbon dioxide or liquid nitrogen into the silo, causing any oxygen trapped by the silage to be consumed and allowing the fire to burn out.

A concern related to a fire in an oxygen-limiting silo is the potential buildup of confined gases within the silo. Through pyrolysis, a smoldering fire will produce large quantities of carbon monoxide and other products that can result in an explosion when combined with air from outside the silo. Consequently, you should do nothing that will cause air to go into the silo. For example, do not add water or foam or open any portals into the silo.

Modified Oxygen-Limiting Silo

For fire management purposes, you can treat an oxygen-limiting silo that has been modified through the installation of a top unloader the same way as a nonmodified oxygen-limiting silo, at least initially. However, in spite of such modification, these structures are still airtight enough to allow for a dangerous buildup of carbon monoxide in a smoldering fire. In more than one case, an explosion has occurred during firefighting operations involving a modified oxygen-limiting silo.

Additional Recommendations

  • Specialized training in proper techniques for responding to silo fires is available for fire department personnel. If your local firefighters have not had such training, encourage them to locate and participate in a training program.
  • If you no longer use a silo, make sure that it is completely empty. Residual silo material can dry out and pose a fire risk.
  • In the event of a silo fire, do not apply cool or cold water to the outside of a silo because doing so may cause structural damage.
  • After a silo fire, inspect the silo, and make any necessary repairs.


Click here for a guide to assisting firefighters at the scene of a silo fire. 

Use the following format to cite this article:
Silo fire prevention and management. (2015) Farm and Ranch eXtension in Safety and Health (FReSH) Community of Practice. Retrieved from….


Florida Forage Handbook. (2008). University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS). Retrieved from

Hill, D. (2009) Silo fires—protect your investment. Pennsylvania State University. Retrieved from

Murphy, D., and Arble, W. (2000) Extinguishing fires in silos and hay mows. New York: Natural Resource, Agriculture, and Engineering Service.

Article Contributor: 
Davis E. Hill, Pennsylvania State University–
Reviewed and Summarized by:
Linda M. Fetzer, Pennsylvania State
Carol Jones, Oklahoma State University–
Dennis J. Murphy, Pennsylvania State University–
Aaron M. Yoder, University of Nebraska Medical Center–



Farm Family Emergency Response Program

The Farm Family Emergency Response Program provides awareness training for individuals living or working on farms or ranches and outlines basic responses and actions individuals should consider prior to the arrival of emergency response personnel to the scenes of agricultural emergencies. Effective action by individuals at the scene of an accident can raise the likelihood of a positive outcome for an injured victim.

Click here to be directed to the Farm Family Emergency Response Program site.

Program Details

Target Audience

The program is designed for individuals who work in production agriculture or live on farms or ranches or in rural areas. This training is especially important for farm and ranch managers and employees, spouses and family members living on farms or ranches, 4-H members, and FFA groups.

Learning Objectives and Goals

The Farm Family Emergency Response Program was designed to achieve the following objectives:

  • To teach individuals how to keep themselves physically and emotionally safe during agricultural emergencies or rescues
  • To teach individuals the types of actions that will have a positive impact on the well-being of accident victims
  • To teach people how to summon additional help and engage those individuals in the rescue response
  • To reinforce the importance of first aid and CPR training for individuals involved in production agriculture


Instructors for this program typically include Cooperative Extension educators, hospital personnel, agricultural education teachers, and emergency services instructors. The instructor materials include a 20-minute tutorial explaining how to present the program, a sample presentation demonstration, reproducible class materials, instructional materials, and module narratives.

Learning Activities

The Farm Family Emergency Response Program is divided into 12 modules that cover topics related to the primary causes of agricultural injury and death. Each module includes a period for the discussion of prevention strategies. Participants are encouraged to implement safety strategies and recommendations on their farms and ranches. 


The instructor should measure the effectiveness of the class by having participants complete the pretest and posttest located in the instructor’s manual. Participants complete registration cards that can be used for follow-up to determine whether participants made changes on their farms or ranches because of the program.


Reviewed and Summarized by:
Linda M. Fetzer, Pennsylvania State University –
Davis Hill, Pennsylvania State University (Has since retired)
Dennis J. Murphy, Pennsylvania State University (Has since retired)
Aaron M. Yoder, University of Nebraska Medical Center –

Emergency Response and Preparedness Publications

Agricultural Emergencies

Topic Title Organization Pub Date
Accident Extrication Procedures for Farm Families and Employees University of Georgia Cooperative Extension 2012
Initial Farm Injury Emergency Response The Ohio State University 2011
First Response to Farm Accidents University of Maine Extension 2002
Preplanning for Farm Emergencies University of Maine Extension 2002
Pre-Response Plan Virginia Cooperative Extension 2009
Rural Security Planning: Protecting Family, Friends, and Farms Purdue Extension 2006
Tractor and PTO Accidents and Rescues University of Maine Extension 2002

Fire and Fire Prevention

Topic Title Organization Pub Date
Electrical Fires: Prevention and Extinguishing University of Maine Extension 2002
Fire Prevention and Safety Measures Around the Farm Rutgers Cooperative Extension 2009
Fires: Detection and Equipment to Fight Them University of Maine Extension 2002

First Aid

Topic Title Organization Pub Date
Basic First Aid University of Maine Extension 2002
First Aid for Bee and Insect Stings University of Maine Extension 2002
First Aid for Electrical Accidents University of Maine Extension 2002
First Aid for Eyes University of Maine Extension 2002
First Aid Kits for the Farm and Home University of Maine Extension 2002

Weather-Related Issues

Topic Title Organization Pub Date
Is Your Family Prepared for an Earthquake? University of Missouri Extension 2008
Winter Driving Safety University of Maine Extension 2002


Preventing Fires in Baled Hay and Straw

Use the following format to cite this article:

Preventing fires in baled hay and straw. (2012). Farm and Ranch eXtension in Safety and Health (FReSH) Community of Practice. Retrieved from


Most hay fires occur within the first six weeks after baling. Understanding the causes of fires in stored hay and learning how to reduce fire hazards will protect your feed supply and could prevent the loss of time and money associated with a fire. 

Causes of Fires in Baled Hay or Straw

Moisture content is the main factor that causes hay and straw to spontaneously combust. Hay fires are more common than straw fires, for reasons involving the type of forage, the moisture content in the stored forage, and heat production.

After forages are cut, respiration of plant fibers (burning of plant sugars to produce energy) continues in plant cells, causing the release of a small amount of heat. When the forages are cut, field dried, and baled at the recommended moisture level (20% or less), plant cell respiration slows and eventually ends. 

When forages are baled at moisture levels of greater than 20%, the right environment is provided for the growth and multiplication of mesophilic (warm temperature) bacteria found in forage crops. Mesophilic bacteria release heat within the bale and cause the internal bale temperature to rise between 130ºF and 140ºF. At this temperature range, bacteria die and bale temperature decreases. Fire risk is greater for hay than for straw because a hay bale’s interior temperature does not cool after the first initial heating cycle. The respiratory heat created by the mesophilic bacteria provides a breeding ground for thermophilc (heat loving) bacteria. Basically, the higher the moisture content, the longer a bale will remain at a higher temperature. For example, a bale with 30% moisture content may have higher interior bale temperature for up to 40 days. When thermophilic bacteria are present, they multiply and produce heat, which can raise interior bale temperature to over 170°F. At these temperatures, spontaneous combustion can occur.

Additional factors that contribute to the risk of hay fires include the volume of the mow or bale stack, bale density, and ventilation or air flow around the stacked bales. Bales with a lower density that are stacked lower and have good air flow and ventilation have a lower risk of overheating.

Decreasing the Risk of Fire

The best way to reduce the risk of a hay fire is to bale hay at a moisture content of 20% or less because at this moisture level, microbial activity decreases. There are several ways of reducing moisture content in baled hay:

  • Baling under appropriate conditions: Weather plays a critical role in achieving the appropriate moisture level in baled hay. The recommended weather conditions for haymaking are a slight wind and a humidity level of 50% or less. Because hay has a higher moisture content in the morning, it is recommended that you bale later in the day. The recommended practice for haymaking is to mow hay in the morning and allow it to dry in the field for a minimum of one full day prior to baling.
  • Using specialized equipment: Another way of decreasing moisture content is to use specialized haying equipment designed to increase drying rates. Such equipment includes tedders, windrow inverters, hay rakes, and conditioning equipment.
  • Using hay preservatives: Hay preservatives, such as liquid propionic acid, applied to the hay during baling inhibit or reduce the growth of bacteria in hay with a high moisture content. 

Another way to reduce the risk of a hay fire is to ensure that stored hay remains dry. 

  • When storing hay inside, make sure the barn or storage area is weathertight and has proper drainage to prevent water from entering the barn. 
  • When storing hay outside, cover the hay with plastic or another type of waterproof material. If you are unable to cover the bales, arrange the bales so that air can circulate between them to promote drying. Bales can be protected from ground moisture by storing them on a bed of gravel or lifting them off the ground on used tires, poles, or pallets.

Monitoring the Temperature of Stored Hay

If you are concerned that hay may have been baled at too high a moisture content, monitor the internal bale temperature twice daily for the first six weeks after baling. For safety reasons, you must work with a partner when checking the temperature of stacked bales. One of you stands atop the bales to measure the internal temperature while the other observes. The person testing the hay should wear a harness and a lifeline that is attached to a secure object. In the event of an emergency, such a system allows the observer to pull the person checking the temperature out of the hay. Due to the potential dangers of this situation, this task should not be assigned to youth workers.

You can use a commercial thermometer to test the temperature of baled hay, but commercial thermometers are not always the appropriate length to monitor the interior zone of baled hay. If a commercial thermometer does not meet your needs, you can fabricate a probe from a 10 ft. length of 3/4 in. iron pipe. Drill eight holes that are 3/16 in. in diameter about 3 in. from one end. Hammer that end of the pipe to form a sharp edge with which to probe. Insert the probe into a hay bale, and use a piece of light wire to lower a thermometer down into the end of the pipe. Alternatively, you may use a piece of 3/8 in. pipe that is 8 to 10 ft. long to test the temperature of hay.

To test the temperature of the hay, place wooden planks or plywood across top of the bales so that the weight of the person standing on the hay is distributed evenly and he or she will be at less risk of falling into a burned-out cavity. Drive a commercial thermometer or a homemade probe into the bale of hay. If you use a fabricated probe, keep the thermometer in the probe for approximately 10 to 15 minutes to obtain the temperature reading. If you use a 3/8 in. pipe, leave the pipe in place for 20 minutes. When you remove the pipe from the hay, if the pipe is too hot to hold in your hand, then you should remove the hot hay.

The following temperature chart outlines further actions that may need to be taken depending on the temperature of the hay.

Critical Temperatures and Action Steps
Temperature (ºF) Condition and Action
125 No action needed.
150 Hay is entering the danger zone. Check temperature twice daily. Disassemble stacked hay bales to promote air circulation to cool the hay.


Hay has reached the danger zone. Check hay temperature every couple of hours. Disassemble stacked hay bales to promote air circulation to cool the hay.
175 Hot spots or fire pockets are likely. Alert fire services to the possible hay fire incident. Stop all air movement around the hay.
190 With the assistance of the fire service, remove hot hay. Be aware that hay could burst into flames.
200 or higher With the assistance of the fire service, remove hot hay. Most likely, a fire will occur. Be aware that hay could burst into flames.

(Source: National Resource, Agriculture, and Engineering Service [NRAES])

Hay Fire Hazards

The following three hazards exist from hay fires: 

  • Flare-Ups: When the internal hay bale temperature is between 150ºF and 170ºF, the potential exists for spontaneous combustion, and the hay should be moved to allow it to cool. If the temperature is at the higher end of the range, moving the hay could expose it to oxygen and cause flare-ups. Contact your local fire department and have charged water hoses available. 
  • Burned-Out Cavities: These cavities form when temperatures deep within stored hay reached high temperature levels and the hay has burned. A person can become trapped in a burned-out cavity if he or she is walking over the top of the hay pile. Due to the risk of a person falling into a burned-out cavity, at least two people should investigate a hay mow.
  • Toxic Gas: Toxic gases such as carbon monoxide can be released by smoldering and burning hay. Chemically treated hay may emit additional toxic gas vapors. A trained fire-rescue worker with a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) should be called to assist at the scene in either situation.

When a Fire Occurs

In the event of a fire, or even when hay is smoldering, contact the fire department immediately. Your next action step and main priority should be to protect human life. Remember that you can replace hay, buildings, and equipment, but you cannot replace human life.

Before taking any action to fight a fire, consider other valuable actions you can take to address the situation prior to the arrival of fire fighters, including the following:

  • Account for all personnel on your farm or ranch operation.
  • Check the area for flammable products. If any are present, immediately leave the area and upon the fire fighters’ arrival, make them aware of the flammable products.
  • Determine whether electricity needs to be turned off in buildings.
  • If the hay fire is located inside a building that houses livestock, consider personal safety before relocating livestock to an area away from the structure.
  • Remove any extra vehicles or machinery from the area around the fire to clear space for the fire service equipment.
  • Stage bale-moving machinery out of the immediate fire area, but have it available to help move bales, as directed by fire fighters.
  • Retrieve material safety data sheets (MSDSs) for any chemical preservatives that may have been used on the hay and that fire fighters will need to review.

Moving hay bales is hot, smoky, and physically demanding work that can cause injuries, exhaustion, smoke inhalation, and heart attacks. Individuals involved at the scene need to be monitored and should receive medical attention should they exhibit signs related to any of these health concerns.

Things to Remember:

  • Most hay fires related to moisture levels occur in the first six weeks after baling.
  • When baling hay, keep moisture levels at 20% or less.
  • Keep baled hay dry by covering it or storing it inside.
  • Monitor internal bale temperature on a regular basis.
    • Youth workers should not be given the task of checking hay temperatures.
  • If you store uncovered bales outside, arrange bales so that air can circulate around them.
  • The use of ventilation changes based on the temperature of the hay. At lower temperatures, increased ventilation around the bales will help the hay return to an acceptable temperature. If hay temperatures reach 175ºF, stop ventilating hay because the increased air flow could feed a fire.
  • Maintain MSDSs for any crop preservatives that may have been used on the hay, and have the MSDS readily available for fire service personnel.


Use the following format to cite this article:

Preventing fires in baled hay and straw. (2012). Farm and Ranch eXtension in Safety and Health (FReSH) Community of Practice. Retrieved from





Gay, S., Grisso, R., Smith, R., & Swisher, J. (2003) Hay fire prevention and control. Virginia Cooperative Extension. Retrieved from….

Harshman, W., Yoder, A., Hilton, J., & Murphy, D. (2011) Hay storage fires. Hazardous Occupations Safety Training in Agriculture 3.7.2. Retrieved from….

Lemus, R. (2009) Hay storage: Dry matter losses and qualify changes. Mississippi State University Extension Service. Retrieved from

Murphy, D. & Arble, W. (2000) Extinguishing fires in silos and hay mows. New York: Natural Resource, Agriculture, and Engineering Service (NRAES).


Reviewers, Contributors, and Summarized by:
Linda M. Fetzer, Pennsylvania State University –
LaMar J. Grafft, East Carolina University
Dave E. Hill, Pennsylvania State University  (Has since retired)
Dennis M. Murphy, Pennsylvania State University – (Has since retired)
Cheryl Skjolaas, University of Wisconsin
Aaron M. Yoder, University of Nebraska Medical Center –


Basic First Aid

Use the following format to cite this article:

Basic first aid. (2012). Farm and Ranch eXtension in Safety and Health (FReSH) Community of Practice. Retrieved from


Farm and ranch owners and managers, as well as family members working on a farm or ranch, should receive first aid training. Having personnel trained in first aid who can respond appropriately to an accident can improve the outcome for a victim of an agricultural accident.

First Aid Training

To obtain first aid training, check local hospitals, schools, emergency medical services (EMS), and similar resources for upcoming first aid classes. Sign up for a first aid or first responder class or organize a class for workers or local agricultural organizations. Several state and national organizations, including those listed below, may have courses or trainers available in your area:

  • American Red Cross: Input your zip code on the website to find a local Red Cross office.
  • National Safety Council: Choose the type of class you wish to take and identify your area to locate an instructor.

Note that many institutions also offer online training courses. 

Basic First Aid

Agricultural incidents can result in a wide variety of injuries. Below are some basic first aid instructions for common injuries and emergency situations that occur on farms and ranches.


Anaphylaxis is a life-threatening allergic reaction that can cause shock, breathing difficulties, and a drop in blood pressure. Triggers of anaphylaxis include medications (such as penicillin), foods (such as peanuts or shellfish), and stings from insects (such as bees, fire ants, and so on). Anaphylactic reactions can include the following symptoms:

  • Skin reactions, such as hives
  • Swelling of the face, eyes, lips, and throat
  • Airway constriction
  • Weak and rapid pulse
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Unconsciousness

Take the following actions to assist a person experiencing anaphylaxis:

  • At the first sign of anaphylaxis, contact 911 or local EMS.
  • A person aware of his or her anaphylactic tendency may carry an epinephrine autoinjector such as an EpiPen to treat this type of attack. Depending on his or her condition, ask the person experiencing the reaction whether he or she needs assistance in using the autoinjector on his or her thigh.
  • While waiting for EMS, have the person experiencing the reaction lie on his or her back. Loosen any tight-fitting clothing the person is wearing, and cover the person with a blanket. 
  • Should the person begin to vomit, turn the person on his or her side.
  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can be administered if the person shows no signs of breathing, coughing, or movement. (Click here to be directed to CPR instructions.)

Note that a person experiencing an anaphylactic reaction should not try to drink. Do not give water to a person suffering anaphylaxis.

For a short video by EpiPen on anaphylactic shock and the use of an epinephrine injector, click the image below.

A person experiencing anaphylaxis should be treated with an epinephrine injector only if he or she has been prescribed one by a physician or if the injection is administered by a licensed EMS provider. Complications can arise if epinephrine is used on some patients, especially patients with a history of cardiac problems. EMS responders should be called to manage a person having symptoms of anaphylaxis if the person does not have his or her own injector.

Animal Bites

The most common animal bites are from domestic animals such as dogs and cats. Bites that result in puncture wounds have the greatest chance of becoming infected. Anyone who receives an animal bite that punctures the skin should be seen by a physician or go to the local emergency room.

Take the following actions to assist a person who receives an animal bite:

  • When a person receives a bite that punctures the skin, wash the wound completely with soap and water for three to five minutes.
  • When a bite is more serious and involves deep punctures or badly torn skin and bleeding, apply pressure to the wound with a clean, dry cloth.
  • After the bite has been treated, watch the area for any signs of infection, such as swelling, redness, excessive pain, or oozing. If the site becomes infected, seek medical attention.

Depending on the bite, a physician may recommend that the person bitten get an updated tetanus shot (if his or her last injection was more than five years ago).

Amputation/Severed Body Part

Take the following actions when a body part is cut or torn from a person’s body in an agricultural accident:

  1. Call 911 or contact local EMS.
  2. Locate the body part, wrap it in sterile gauze or a clean cloth, and place it in a plastic bag.
  3. Place the bag with in a cooler with ice and bring it or have it transported to the hospital.

Do not freeze the body part.


The three burn classifications are first-, second-, and third-degree.

  • A first-degree burn is the least serious, affecting only the outer layer of skin. A minor sunburn is considered a first-degree burn. Most first-degree burns should be treated as minor burns, unless a burn covers a substantial part of a person’s body.
  • A second-degree burn occurs when the first and second layer of skin have been burned. Such burns can result in blisters; red, splotchy skin; pain; and swelling. Treat a second-degree burn as a minor burn if it is three inches or smaller.
  • Third-degree burns always require professional medical treatment because these burns can affect all layers of skin and tissue and may extend to muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves, and bone. Initially, a third-degree burn may be less painful than a first- or second-degree burn because the nerves are usually burned. Excruciating pain from a third-degree burn may occur later. 

Treating a minor burn

Take the following steps to treat a minor burn

  1. Ensure that the victim is no longer in contact with the source of the burn.
  2. Have the burned person cool the burned area by holding it under cool (not cold) running water for approximately 10 to 15 minutes. 
  3. Cover the affected area loosely with a sterile gauze bandage. 

Never use ice, butter, or ointment on a burn, and do not break blisters.

Treating a third-degree or major burn

Treatment for a third-degree or major burn includes the following steps:

  1. Call 911 or contact local EMS.
  2. Ensure that the victim is no longer in contact with the source of the burn.
  3. Check the victim for signs of circulation (breathing, coughing, or movement). If the victim is not breathing, begin CPR.
  4. Cool the burn site with water or cool, moist sterile bandages.
  5. Cover the burned area loosely with a sterile dressing.

Never remove burned clothing that is stuck to a burned area; rather, cool the material and cut or tear around the area. Do not immerse large, severely burned areas in cold water. You may pour cool water on large burns if you can do so within 20 minutes of the victim receiving the burn. A doctor may recommend a tetanus shot for individuals who sustain third-degree burns. 

Watch the following video by the Health and Safety Institute to learn more about first aid for a major burn:

Chemical Burns

A chemical burn occurs when living tissue comes in contact with a corrosive substance such as an acid, a base, an oxidizer, a solvent, a reducing agent, or an alkali. In agriculture, such substances are found in pesticides, lime and fertilizers, fuels, detergents, and sanitizers.

Treating a liquid chemical burn

Take the following actions to assist a person who has sustained a liquid chemical burn:

  1. Remove the source of the burn and remove clothing or jewelry that may have been contaminated by the corrosive substance. 
  2. Rinse the affected area for 15 to 30 minutes with cool, gently running water. 
  3. Loosely wrap the burned area with dry, sterile dressing or a clean cloth.
  4. If the victim continues to experience a burning sensation, rewash the area.

Treating a dry chemical burn

When a person sustains a dry chemical burn, brush away the excess chemical with a gloved hand or a towel. Then follow the directions for threating a liquid chemical burn.

Contact 911 or local EMS if any of the following conditions apply:

  • The victim shows signs of shock.
  • The victim has a second-degree burn larger than three inches.
  • The victim has uncontrollable pain.
  • The burn involves the eyes, hands, feet, face, groin, buttocks, or major joints. 

An updated tetanus shot may be recommended by the attending physician if the injury requires a visit to the emergency room.

Chemical burns to the eye

A person can receive a chemical burn to the eye when a chemical liquid is splashed in his or her eye or when the person rubs his or her eye after touching a chemical. Products at work and in the home that can cause chemical burns to the eye include cleaners, solvents, disinfectants, fertilizers, and pesticides.

Take the following steps to treat a chemical burn to the eye:

  • Get emergency care for the injury.
  • Flush the victim’s eyes with lukewarm tap water for a minimum of 20 minutes.
    • Have the victim keep his or her eyes wide open during flushing.
    • When flushing, rinse each eye from the nose outward to reduce the risk of chemical residue washing into the other eye.
    • Use only water or saline rinse (for contact lenses) to flush the eyes.
    • Water irrigation to the eyes should begin immediately and should be continued while the victim is en route to treatment.
    • The victim should expect additional flushing upon arrival at the hospital. 
  • Thoroughly wash your hands to remove possible chemical residue.
  • Note the name of the chemical or take the chemical container to the emergency department. 

Never allow the victim to rub his or her eyes. Note that chemical burns to the eye may cause light sensitivity, so the victim may need to wear sunglasses when going for emergency care.

Electrical Burns

An electrical burn burns from the inside of the body outward. Although an electrical burn may appear to be minor and may not even be visible on the skin, damage can occur deep in tissue. Strong electrical currents going through a person’s body can cause internal damage (such as heart-rhythm disturbance or cardiac arrest) or burn a person’s nerves, blood vessels, tissues, or organs. 

When a person may have an electrical burn, first evaluate the scene to determine whether the person is still in contact with the electrical source. Do not touch the person until you have first turned off the source of electricity. Then take the following actions:

  1. Call 911 or local EMS.
  2. Check the person for injuries, and begin CPR if the victim is not breathing.
  3. Cover the burn area with dry, sterile gauze bandages.
  4. Keep the person from getting chilled, and do not cool the burned area with water.


Choking occurs when a foreign object becomes lodged in a person’s throat or windpipe, hindering air flow as the person tries to breathe. If the choking victim is conscious, ask him or her whether he or she is choking and whether you can help him or her. If the victim cannot cough, speak, or breathe, contact 911 or local EMS. Then begin administering abdominal thrusts, also known as the Heimlich maneuver:

  1. Stand behind the victim and place the thumb side of your fist against the middle of the victim’s abdomen.
  2. Place your other hand on your fist and give five quick, upward thrusts to dislodge the object. 
  3. If the victim is pregnant, position your fist slightly higher, by the base of the breastbone.

Do not administer abdominal thrusts if the person is coughing, but rather encourage him or her to continue coughing to dislodge the object.

Embedded Objects

If you encounter a person with an object embedded in his or her skin, do not remove the item. Removal of the impaled object could cause uncontrollable bleeding or damage to nerves and blood vessels near the injury site. Make sure that the object remains in place by putting clean dressings or gauze around the object. Once the object is immobilized, wrap the area with gauze and get emergency medical treatment for the injury.

Fracture or Musculoskeletal Injuries

A fracture is a complete break, chip, or crack in a bone. All bone fractures require medical attention. Contact 911 or local EMS if any of the following conditions apply:

  • The injured person has sustained an injury to the head, neck, or back.
    • Do not move the person if the injury involves the head, neck, or back. 
  • The injured person shows signs of unresponsiveness.
  • The injured person is unable to move or use the injured body part without pain.

While you are waiting for EMS responders, attempt to stop any bleeding, immobilize the area, apply ice packs to decrease swelling and relieve pain, and treat the victim for shock (if applicable).

If you need to transport the victim, you should first immobilize the injured body part with a soft, rigid, or anatomical splint.

  • Soft splints, which have some flexibility, can be made from items such as pillows or blankets.
  • Rigid splints, which are difficult to bend, can be made from boards or rolled up newspapers.
  • Anatomical splints are made from body parts adjacent to the the injury.  For example, if an person has injured his or her leg, the injured leg could be splinted against the other leg.

If fractures occur between two joints, a splint should extend to cover both joints. Likewise, if a fracture occurs on a joint, the splint should extend to cover the bones above and below the joint. Once the splint is complete, apply ice and elevate the injured body part. Do not put ice directly on the skin; place a towel between the ice and the person’s body. 


Frostbite occurs when the skin and underlying tissue freeze due to exposure to cold. The severity of frostbite depends on temperature, exposure time, and wind. Areas typically affected by frostbite include the hands, feet, arms, legs, nose, and ears. Common frostbite symptoms include skin discoloration (white or grayish-yellow); cold skin temperature; skin that feels hard or waxy; and skin that is itchy, burned, or numb. Frostbite is categorized by degree of severity: frost nip, superficial frostbite, and deep frostbite. Skin may be red and painful when the area thaws. 

If you experience frostbite, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. Take the following actions while awaiting treatment:

  1. Protect yourself from further exposure by warming the frostbitten body part—by putting your hands in your arm pits, for example—but do not rub or massage a frostbitten area.
  2. Go inside and remove wet clothes and anything that may constrict blood flow.
  3. Gradually warm the frostbitten area with warm water, and loosely wrap affected areas in dry, sterile dressings or a warm blanket. Place cotton or gauze between frostbitten fingers or toes. 

Head Trauma

If a person sustains a moderate or severe head injury, contact 911 or EMS immediately. Symptoms of head injury include the following:

  • Head, nose or facial bleeding
  • Severe headache
  • Changes in consciousness
  • Confusion
  • Loss of balance
  • Weakness or inability to use limbs
  • Vomiting
  • Slurred speech
  • Seizure

In the event of a severe head trauma, keep the injured person still and calm while you are waiting for EMS responders. Do not move the injured person unless absolutely necessary. Try to stop any bleeding by applying firm pressure to the wound with a sterile bandage. Do not, however, apply direct pressure to a severe head wound. If the bandage becomes soaked with blood, do not remove the bandage, but rather place an additional bandage on top. If there is any debris in the wound, leave it in place for medical professionals to remove. Begin CPR if the person exhibits no signs of breathing or circulation. 

Severe Bleeding

An adult has approximately 12 pints of blood in his or her body, so loss of even a pint of blood can be serious. Bleeding can be internal or external. When a person has  internal bleeding, others may not be able to see or do anything to treat the source of the bleeding.

Follow the instructions below to provide first aid to a person who has external bleeding: 

  1. Contact 911 or EMS responders immediately. 
  2. When possible, before you attempt to stop severe bleeding, thoroughly wash your hands and put on disposable gloves to reduce the risk of infection.
  3. Using a sterile bandage, dressing, or clean cloth, apply direct pressure to the wound for about 20 minutes to stop the bleeding.
    • Depending on the remoteness of your location and availability of resources, you may not have a clean bandage. In such a situation, you can use a towel or shirt when applying direct pressure. Although such fabric is not sterile, its use is acceptable because the main priority is to stop the bleeding.
    • If the bleeding will not stop, have the person lie down, and elevate the wounded area. If necessary, apply pressure on the appropriate pressure point—pressure points are identified during first aid training—to slow the blood rate through the artery. 
  4. Remove any visible dirt or debris from the wound, but do not disturb large or embedded items.
  5. Maintain pressure on the wound by wrapping the injured area with a clean cloth or adhesive tape.
  6. If bleeding continues, do not remove the gauze or bandage, but rather place additional gauze on top of the injured area.
  7. Once you have stopped the bleeding, immobilize the injured body part.


Shock occurs when a person is not getting adequate blood or oxygen to his or her organs. In such a situation, the body responds by entering a survival state with the purpose of counteracting such life threatening conditions as excessive loss of blood. A person can experience shock as a result of an injury, heatstroke, severe burn, and so on. Symptoms of shock vary, but common signs include the following:

  • Whole-body weakness
  • Cool and clammy skin
  • Weak and rapid pulse
  • Increased breathing rate
  • Nausea
  • Staring
  • Unconsciousness

If you think a person is in shock, call 911 or your local EMS. While waiting for EMS, have the person lie down, and check for signs of circulation, keep the person comfortable and warm (but not overheated), and raise the person’s legs 10 to 12 inches (as long as doing so will not cause the injured person discomfort or pain). Do not give the injured person food or liquids even if the person asks for something to eat or drink; shock can shut down blood flow to the stomach, hampering digestion.


For more information about preparing your farm or ranch personnel for an agricultural incident, here to be linked to the article “Basic CPR” and here to be linked to “First Aid Kits for Production Agriculture.”


Use the following format to cite this article:

Basic first aid. (2012). Farm and Ranch eXtension in Safety and Health (FReSH) Community of Practice. Retrieved from




Community first aid and safety. (2002) San Bruno, CA: The American Red Cross.

First aid and emergencies. (n.d.) WebMD. Retrieved from

Hill, D. (2004) Emergency first aid care for farm families: Instructor’s guide. Managing Agricultural Emergencies.

Mayo clinic staff. (n.d.) First aid. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from

Murphy, D., Pollock, J., Smith, G., Bean, T., & Sailus, M. (1989) First on the scene. National Resource, Agriculture, and Engineering Service. Retrieved from


Reviewers, Contributors, and Summarized by:
Linda M. Fetzer, Pennsylvania State University –
Gary Erisman, Retired Safety Faculty (Illinois State University) and active farmer (Has since retired)
Karen Funkenbusch, University of Missouri
LaMar Grafft, North Carolina Agromedicine Institute –
Davis Hill, Pennsylvania State University – (has since retired)   
Dennis J. Murphy, Pennsylvania State University – (has since retired)
Aaron M. Yoder, University of Nebraska Medical Center –




Basic CPR

Use the following format to cite this article:

Basic CPR. (2012). Farm and Ranch eXtension in Safety and Health (FReSH) Community of Practice. Retrieved from


Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is a life-saving technique that is useful in many types of emergency situations. Although this article describes basic CPR procedures, there is no substitution for taking a certified CPR class that allows you to learn and practice breathing and compression techniques by using special CPR mannequins. To locate CPR classes in your area, click here to view the website of the American Heart Association and here to view the website of the American Red Cross.

Note: An automated external defibrillator (AED) is a portable electronic device used to provide defibrillation via an electric shock. Defibrillation is electrical therapy that temporarily stops all heart activity and allows the heart to return to its regular rhythm. AEDs are now located in many public spaces and can be purchased for private use. An AED can shorten or even alleviate the need for CPR. Use an AED only if you have received training on how to operate the device. Because AEDs are not available in all cases, CPR remains a valuable skill.

CPR for an Unconscious Adult

The purpose of CPR is to keep oxygenated blood flowing to the brain and other vital organs until emergency medical responders can restore the unconscious person’s normal heart rhythm. Before you start CPR, you must determine whether the victim is conscious. Tap the person on his or her shoulder and ask loudly whether he or she is okay. If there is no response, immediately call 911 or local emergency services, and then start CPR.

The three main steps of CPR are circulation, airway, and breathing.


The goal of the circulation step is to restore blood circulation by using chest compressions.

  1. Make sure that the person is lying on his or her back on a firm surface, and then kneel to one side of the person’s neck and shoulder.
  2. Place the heel of one of your hands over the center of the person’s chest between the nipples. Place your other hand on top of your first hand.
  3. While keeping your elbows straight and shoulders directly above your hands, use your body weight to push straight down and compress the person’s chest at least two inches. 
  4. Complete chest compressions at a rapid pace of about 100 compressions per minute. To maintain the appropriate rhythm and count, chant to yourself “one and two and three and four and five,” and so on, as you compress the chest. 
  • If you have not been trained in CPR, continue chest compressions until there are signs of movement from the person or until emergency responders have taken over.
  • If you have been trained in CPR, do 30 chest compressions and then move on to checking the person’s airway.
  • Recommendations from the American Heart Association state that if you are untrained or if your CPR skills are not current, you should provide hands-only CPR (chest compressions only). 


If you have been trained in CPR and you have done 30 chest compressions, open the person’s airway by using the recommended head-tilt, chin-lift maneuver. Place one hand on the person’s forehead and gently tilt the head back while lifting the chin forward with your other hand. Spend a maximum of 10 seconds checking the person for normal breathing by looking for chest movement, listening for breathing sounds, and trying to feel the person’s breath on your cheek or ear. If the person is not breathing, check whether the airway is clear by opening and looking into the person’s mouth. Any foreign object that you can easily reach should be removed. Do not attempt to remove an object that is deep in the throat because you could push the object deeper.


Rescue breathing is typically done with mouth-to-mouth breathing, but it can be done mouth-to-nose if the victim’s mouth is seriously injured or cannot be opened. After you have opened the airway  by using the head-tilt, chin-lift maneuver, pinch the person’s nose and create a seal by placing your mouth over his or her mouth. Give a rescue breath by breathing into the person’s mouth, and observe the person’s chest to make sure that it rises. If the chest does not rise, reposition the head using the head-tilt, chin-lift maneuver. Give a second rescue breath, and follow it with 30 chest compressions and two more rescue breaths. Repeat the pattern of 30 compressions and two breaths until there are signs of movement from the person or emergency responders have taken over.

CPR for an Unconscious Child

 Performing CPR on an unconscious child is similar to performing CPR on an adult, with the following exceptions:

  • If you are alone, do five cycles of 30 compressions and two rescue breaths before calling 911 or local emergency services.
  • Use only one hand to complete the chest compressions.
  • Perform rescue breaths gently.

Click here to be directed to the University of Washington School of Medicine CPR fact sheets and video clips about performing CPR on adults, children, and infants.

For more information about preparing your farm or ranch personnel for an agricultural incident, click here to view the article “Basic First Aid” and here to view “First Aid Kits for Production Agriculture.”


Use the following format to cite this article:

Basic CPR. (2012). Farm and Ranch eXtension in Safety and Health (FReSH) Community of Practice. Retrieved from



Community first aid and safety. (2002) San Bruno, CA: The American Red Cross.

Eisenburg, M. (n.d.) Learn CPR: You can do it! University of Washington School of Medicine. Retrieved from

Hill, D. (2004) Emergency first aid care for farm families instructor’s guide. Pennsylvania State University.

Mayo Clinic staff. (n.d.) Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR): First aid. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved from


Reviewed and Summarized by:
Linda M. Fetzer, Pennsylvania State University –
LaMar Grafft, East Carolina University
Dave Hill, Pennsylvania State University
Dennis J. Murphy, Pennsylvania State University –
Aaron M. Yoder, University of Nebraska Medical Center –



First Aid Kits for Production Agriculture

Use the following format to cite this article:

First aid kits for production agriculture. (2013). Farm and Ranch eXtension in Safety and Health (FReSH) Community of Practice. Retrieved from


Most farms and ranches require multiple first aid kits due to the many types of jobs and the dispersed areas of work in a production agriculture operation. Not only is it important to have appropriate first aid kits on your farm or ranch, it is important that you and others in your operation understand basic first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

First Aid Kits

First Aid Kit. Photo Source: Penn State University

First Aid Kit. Source: Penn State University

Accidents on farms and ranches can be quite severe, and space in a first aid kit is limited, so it is important to choose items for kits wisely. Follow these guidelines when assembling a first aid kit:

  • Include pertinent personal information in first aid kits for individuals who have specific medical conditions. For example, indicate that a certain person has an allergic reaction to bee stings. 
  • Include the contact information for the family doctor of each person working in the vicinity of the kit.
  • Remember that agricultural incidents may occur at night or in winter, so include items such as flares, flashlights, emergency blankets, and waterproof matches.
  • In an emergency situation, it is common for people to forget what they have learned in first aid classes, so include a first aid manual in each kit.
  • For the kits, use containers that are dust-free and water-resistant. Label the kits clearly.

Check first aid kits annually for expired products such as ice packs, heat packs, ointments, saline solution, and so on, and change the flashlight batteries. When you use any items in a first aid kit, replace the items immediately.

Larger first aid kits should be located at main farm or ranch buildings or in the home.  Smaller first aid kits should be kept on major pieces of farm equipment and in vehicles.

The following items should be included in a large first aid kit:

  • Sterile first aid dressings in sealed envelopes, in the following sizes:
    • 2 in. by 2 in. for small wounds
    • 4 in. by 4 in. for larger wounds and for compresses to stop bleeding
  • Two trauma dressings for covering large areas
  • Small, sterile adhesive compresses in sealed envelopes
  • Roller bandages and 1 in., 2 in., and 6 in. cling bandages
  • Rolls of adhesive tape in assorted widths (to hold dressings in place)
  • Triangle bandages to use as slings or as coverings over large dressings
  • Antiseptic wash
  • Tongue depressors
  • Bandage scissors and heavy-duty scissors to cut clothing
  • Tweezers to remove insect stingers or small splinters
  • Splints that are 1/4 in. thick by 3 in. wide by 12 to 15 in. long for splinting broken arms and legs
  • Sterile saline solution
    • 8 fl. oz. for small kits
    • 2 qt. for large kits
  • Safety pins
  • Ice packs (chemical ice bags) to reduce swelling
  • A pocket mask for resuscitation
  • Three small packages of sugar for individuals with diabetes
  • Disposable rubber gloves and eye goggles
  • An emergency blanket

Note that dressings must be sterile—do not make your own dressings.

Farm first aid kits can be purchased through certain businesses and organizations. Click the links below to view kits and ordering information:

Specialty Kits

Injuries vary from job to job in production agriculture, so first aid kits should be tailored to the potential injury that could result from a particular job. Listed below are specialty kits and recommended items, in addition to the basic items outlined above, for inclusion in each kit.

Specialty First Aid Kits
Type of Specialty Kit Types of Injury Kit Items
Tractor/Combine Small wounds, minor or major bleeding, fractures, sprains, or severed limbs, amputation, or entanglement
  • Basic first aid manual
  • Two triangular bandages (36 in.)
  • Antiseptic spray
  • Six large adhesive bandages
  • Four safety pins
  • Sterile compress bandages (four 2 in. by 2 in. bandages and four 4 in. by 4 in. bandages)
  • Roll of 2 in. wide tape
  • Two pressure bandages (8 in. by 10 in.)
  • Scissors
  • Two rolls of elastic wrap
  • Five clean plastic bags (varied sizes from bread bags to garbage bags)
Amputation Amputation of a finger or limb
  • Plastic bags of varying sizes (one large garbage bag, four medium kitchen garbage bags, and eight small plastic bread bags)
  • Closable container to store bags
Dressing Supplies Major trauma
  • Sterile compresses (2 in. by 2 in. and 4 in. by 4 in.)
  • Gauze roller bandages (1 in., 2 in., and 6 in. wide)
  • Adhesive tape
  • Triangular bandage
  • Tongue depressors
  • Heavy-duty scissors
  • Chemical ice packs
  • Disposable rubber gloves
  • Goggles
  • Tweezers and safety pins
  • Emergency blanket
  • Antiseptic spray
Fracture (for immobilization of an injured limb) Broken bone
  • Wooden or plastic splints
  • Roll of elastic wrap
  • Tongue depressors
Pesticide Exposure (for use during pesticide application season or to keep in pesticide storage area) Ingestion of or contact with pesticide
  • Emergency and poison control center contact information
  • Two 1 qt. containers of clean water
  • Ipecac syrup
  • Emergency blanket
  • Plastic bags
  • Tape
  • Disposable rubber gloves
  • Goggles

Action Steps

Take the following steps to prepare for potential emergencies or accidents on your farm or ranch: 

  1. Get training in first aid and CPR. Contact the American Red Cross, National Safety Council, or local emergency medical service or hospital to locate trainings in your area.
  2. Make specialized first aid kits for various areas of the farm or ranch. Follow the instructions above to assemble the kits and remember to restock the kit after use and to replace expired items annually.

For more information about preparing your farm or ranch personnel for an agricultural incident, click here to access the article “Basic First Aid” and here to access “Basic CPR.”


Use the following format to cite this article:

First aid kits for production agriculture. (2013). Farm and Ranch eXtension in Safety and Health (FReSH) Community of Practice. Retrieved from




Murphy, D., Pollock, J., Smith, G., Bean, T., & Sailus, M. (1989) First on the scene. National Resource, Agriculture, and Engineering Service (NRAES). Retrieved from

Schwab, C. & Sheridan, C. (2008) Farm emergency and first aid kits. Iowa State University Extension. Retrieved from….

Schwab, C. & Miller, L. (2008) How to respond to farm injuries. Iowa State University Extension. Retrieved from….


Reviewed and Summarized by:
Linda M. Fetzer, Pennsylvania State University –
Gary Erisman, Retired Safety Faculty – Illinois State University and active farmer (Has since retired)
Davis Hill, Pennsylvania State University  (has since retired)
Dennis J. Murphy, Pennsylvania State University – (has since retired)
Aaron M. Yoder, University of Nebraska Medical Center –