A tractor is central to a farm’s operation. It’s used in nearly every task throughout the day. But if used improperly, tractors can be the most dangerous piece of equipment on the farm. In fact, the primary source of most agricultural-related fatalities is the tractor.
The most common tractor activities that result in fatalities are rollovers, transporting equipment on roadways, and repairing or cleaning the equipment.
Top Tractor Tips
- Know your tractor
- Never start in a closed shed
- Use roll-over protection structures and wear seatbelt
- Never allow passengers
- Never leave a tractor engine running
- Take your time and use common sense
- Avoid loose-fitting or torn clothing while working with equipment
Tractor & ATV Safety on the Farm
FarmSafety for Tractors
Read Operating Manual
We often rely on repair methods taught to us by our parents and grandparents without actually reading operation manuals ourselves. It is important for anyone operating tractors or heavy equipment, like bulldozers and skid steers, to be familiar with the safety mechanisms before using the vehicle. Lost your manual or never had one? Click here to find the tractor manual for the model you need.
Wear Appropriate Attire
Loose-fitting clothing is easily caught in the moving parts or controls of tractors and other equipment. Be sure to wear fitted pants, tuck in any loose shirt tails, and avoid wearing scarves when working on or around machinery. It’s also important to protect your feet by investing in sturdy work shoes or boots with non-skid soles and steel toe caps. Heavy work gloves are also useful, as are safety goggles or sunglasses with tempered lenses.
Mount and Dismount Tractor Safely
Many tractor related injuries occur as a result of falling while mounting or dismounting the steps of the tractor. The steps on the tractor should be used the same as the steps of a ladder; either two hands and one foot or one hand and two feet should be in contact with the steps at all times. Be sure your pant cuffs or boot loops are clear of the clutch pedal when you move forward off the platform to prevent tripping or falling off the tractor.
It’s important to always wear your seat belt when operating tractors and other equipment. Do not carry extra riders, unless your tractor is equipped with a buddy seat. To keep all riders safe, there should only be as many passengers on the tractor as there are seat belts. Accidents can happen, even from cabs with locked doors.
Check for Clearance
Before moving the tractor, you should be sure the area is clear. An unseen child or adult in the vicinity of the tractor is at risk of being run over. Children should not be permitted to play in the area where tractors and other machinery are running. You should always drive tractor and other machinery at a safe speed, especially near populated areas. It’s a good idea to keep the brake pedals locked together for simultaneous braking of the rear wheels in these areas.
Rearward Rollover- Tractors can easily tip to the rear when the rear wheels cannot rotate enough to move the machine forward. A rearward tractor rollover can happen in as little as three fourths of a second, less than the reaction time of the average driver. Rearward tractor rollovers can be prevented by:
- releasing the clutch only when the rear wheels CAN rotate forward
- avoiding driving on steep hillsides
- backing the tractor up steep hills
- changing tractor speed gradually by applying power smoothly
- properly stabilizing the tractor for the work to be done
- using tire chains, boards and other materials to improve traction of wheels
- hitching loads to the drawbar correctly
Sideway Rollovers- The wider the tractor, the more stable the machine is. Keep the center of gravity low and safely centered. Sideway rollovers can be prevented by:
- properly stabilizing the tractor
- avoid driving on steep hillsides
- avoid turning at excessive speeds
- avoid driving too close to the edge of roadside ditches or slopes
- using a tractor equipped with Roll Over Protection Structures (ROPS).
ROPS are operator compartment structures (usually cabs or frames) on the tractor. ROPS and proper seat belt use can eliminate nearly all fatalities caused by tractor and lawn mower overturns. If you have an older tractor model that does not have a cab or frame, a ROPS can be retrofitted onto the tractor. Many companies provide engineer-certified ROPS for purchase and installation. For low-clearance environments found in orchards or buildings, equipment should feature AutoROPS, which stay in a lowered position until a rollover condition is detected, and then deploys to a fully extended and locked position.
Avoid By-Pass Starting
Avoid starting a tractor or equipment while standing outside the cab or on the ground. An operator who starts a tractor while standing on the ground cannot be sure if the transmission is in neutral or park. If a manual transmission is in gear when the engine is by-pass started, the tractor could run over the operator because the tractor will start moving as soon as the engine starts to turn over. There may be a slight delay if the tractor has either a hydrostatic transmission or power-shift type transmission, but the delay will not enough time to get out of the way. New tractors are sold with a shield covering the starter motor to prevent by-pass starting. A retro-fit shield that covers the by-pass contacts and prevents by-pass starting is available for older tractor models. This shield should not be removed from the starter motor except when servicing the starter motor, then replaced immediately.
Use Front-End Loaders Properly
Front-end loaders are often misused by stretching their lifting capacity, inappropriate use and lack of safety equipment. Adequate counter balancing of a loader-equipped tractor is essential for safe lifting. If the rear of the tractor is light and bouncy as the loader starts to lift the load, you should lower the load and safely add weight to the machine to balance the load. When moving big round bales, it’s important to use front-end loaders equipped with grapple forks to help grip the bale and prevent it from rolling out of the bucket and down the arms of the loader toward the driver. Another front-loader option is a spear-type bale mover, mounted on either the front or rear of the tractor. Always keep the speed low when using the front-end loader and NEVER use the loader to lift people.
Use PTO Shaft Shields
Most tractors are equipped with a master shield to cover the PTO stub shaft when not in use. Master shields for PTO stub shafts should never be removed from the tractor except for maintenance work, and should be replaced immediately after. Stub shaft shields should never be taken off except when the PTO stub shaft is to be used and replaced immediately after PTO use. When shields are removed, it leaves the stub shaft exposed and puts the operator at risk of entanglement with it. Refer to NDSU Extension Service Circular AE-1070, Straight Facts About PTO Shafts and Shields, which discusses the dangers of exposed PTO shafts.
PTO Safety Demonstration
Agricultural workers can easily be crushed between a tractor and the equipment being attached. You should not enter the area between the tractor and the implement until the tractor is stopped, shifted into neutral and the brakes applied. You should also step out of the area if adjustments have to be made between the tractor and the implement.
Sharing the Road
Sometimes farm vehicles must operate on public roads to move between farms and fields. Although farm equipment is legally allowed on public roads, it’s important to be extremely cautious, courteous and attentive to other motorists and their passengers. Tractors and heavy machinery are much larger than the average automobile; it’s important for farmers to keep the safety of others as their top priority. Before travelling on public roadways, conduct a pre-ride inspection on the tractor and any implements you may be towing. Make sure you have plenty of fuel and all lights and signals work properly. Adjust all mirrors, and have a slow-moving vehicle (SMV) emblem on display if you are travelling at 25 mph or less.
If possible, avoid running equipment on highways during rush hours, bad weather and after dark. If necessary, have pilot cars accompany you on the trip with their hazard lights on to warn other motorists they are accompanying a slow-moving vehicle.
On the roadway, make sure your hazard lights are on and your SMV emblem can easily be seen by other motorists. Be aware of any traffic build up behind you on busy roadways; check your mirrors constantly to be aware of your surroundings. If a considerable amount of traffic has built up behind you, pull off at the next available area, and allow the traffic to pass before pulling back onto the road. The more courtesy you extend to other motorists, the more courtesy they will give you in return.
Maintenance and Repairs
Be sure to keep your tractor current with safety features as they become available. This includes stability, tractor safety decals, operator comfort and control and protection from other hazards. Guided by your operator’s manual, set up a daily maintenance routine to check before using. Check hydraulic oil, engine oil and fluid levels, radiator coolant level, brakes and brake fluid, tire pressure and fan belts. Make sure implements are secure and properly connected. Check carefully for hydraulic leaks by using a piece of cardboard or wood rather than your hands. Tractor operators also need to make sure they are safe while repairing and maintaining equipment.
Display proper slow-moving vehicle (SMV) emblem
Missouri law requires that no person shall operate on any public highway of this state any slow-moving vehicle or equipment after sunset to one-half hour before sunrise, or any other machinery, designed for use or normally operated at speeds less than 25 miles per hour, unless there is a SMV emblem displayed.
- Avoid a sad story: Focus on safety
- The Ten Commandments of Tractor Safety
- Farm Safety: A safe farmer is a successful farmer brochure
- Size and Weights brochure
- National Healthy Worksite Program
- Youth in Agriculture
- North American Guidelines for Children’s Agricultural Tasks (NAGCAT) Guidelines
- Agricultural Safety Topics
- Agricultural Operations
- Electrical Safety on the Farm
- Machine Safety Walkthrough