A mechanical grape harvester travels along rows of vineyards and uses rubber or fiberglass rods to shake fruit off the vines. Mechanical harvesters expedite the process, but the heavy, fast moving equipment, with its many conveyors and fans, make this an operation that requires special attention to safety.

Obtaining training in harvester operations and reading the operator’s manual for precautions and special instructions before operating this vehicle are critical. Make sure that you understand all of the components of the harvesting system, including the harvester, the dump cart, and final discharge to valley bins for transport and processing. Also, due to the seasonal nature of harvest work, train at least annually on harvester operations.

There are ride-on and tow-behind harvesters, and both have many moving parts that can cause serious injuries:

  • Rods and beaters shake the vines to release the berries.
  • Grape conveyors move the freshly picked berries inside the machine.
  • Cross conveyors discharge berries outside the harvester to nearby dumpcarts.
  • Onboard or boom-mounted deleafers and destemmers remove material other than grapes (MOG).
  • Cleaning fans can also be used to chop, vacuum, and blow MOG off of the berries.

All moving equipment parts should be guarded where possible and always keep your hands, feet, and other body parts away from all moving parts. When you are near moving equipment, you should wear form-fitting clothing, remove dangling jewelry, and keep hair tied back.

Before harvest work begins, survey the vineyard area for hazardous conditions such as electrical lines, utilities, water sources, and uneven or unstable ground. Choose a harvester suitable for the trellis/canopy system in the vineyard. Mechanical harvesters can be top heavy and prone to tipping, so only use them on stable ground at a suitable slope. Always watch for ditches and embankments and dump grapes only on level ground as the rising bucket can make the cart unstable.

Keep in mind that harvesters cannot back up, so choose the vine row carefully before you operate the harvester.

Make sure the harvester you operate is properly maintained:

  • Don’t operate a machine that needs repair.
  • Don’t try to clear clogs or jams yourself.
  • Keep guards and shields on moving parts at all times.
  • Shut off the engine and wait for all moving parts to stop completely before removing guards and shields.
  • Use proper lockout/tagout when working on the machine for maintenance or repair.

Always wear your seatbelt when operating the harvester and never leave a running harvester unattended—shut it off, apply the parking brake, and remove the keys when you need to park or leave the machine. Consider personal protective equipment such as sturdy boots, long sleeves and pants, and a visibility vest. Wear gloves to protect your hands when needed, but not around moving parts and equipment.

Be aware of other harvest workers on the ground and operating equipment in the area. Good communication with coworkers about your movements is important, so sound the horn before you start and/or move the harvester. Use backup alarms if the harvester is equipped. While operating at dusk, night, or dawn, keep all of the harvester lights on. You should never allow the harvester or conveyors to travel over workers and do not give rides or permit workers to climb on the machine.

Mechanical harvesters bring in grapes quickly, and, economically. Excellent training, safe work practices, and communication make the process go smoothly.