Without them, many of us would not be able to do our jobs. But if handled improperly or if safety is overlooked, tractors can become the deadliest piece of equipment on the farm. In fact, the primary source for most agriculture related fatalities is the tractor.
The most common tractor activities that result in fatalities is overturning, transporting equipment on or off highway, and repairing or cleaning the vehicle.
Table of Contents
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
Brian Fleischmann, Farmer & Amy Susan, Communications Director for Dept. of Labor
FarmSafety for the Tractor
The topics below can help you formulate a safety plan.
- Read Operating Manual
- Dress Properly
- Mount/Dismount Safely
- Check for Clearance
- Prevent Roll-Overs
- Avoid By-Pass Starting
- Use Front-End Loaders Properly
- PTO Shaft Shield
- Attaching Machinery
- Share the Road Wisely
- Positioning the Wheel
Read Operating Manual
Farmers too often rely on methods that have been taught to them by their father or grandfather without actually reading operation manuals themselves. It is important for all farmers and those 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? Visit www.farmtractormanuals.com to find the manual you need.
Well fitted, belted clothing is a must. Flared pants, shirt tails, scarves and other loose clothing are too easily (and too often) caught in moving parts or controls. Invest in sturdy safety work shoes or boots with non-skid soles and steel toe caps. Protect yourself from the sun in summer and the cold in winter. Heavy work gloves are a plus, as are safety goggles or sun glasses with tempered lenses.
Many agricultural workers have suffered wrist, arm, hip, leg, and ankle injuries 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. Climbing the steps with no hands holding on or taking two steps at a time is inviting an injury-incident. The operator should always face the tractor when going up or down the steps – the handholds will then always be in position to be used; otherwise they are in back of the worker and out of reach. Many pants cuffs or boot loops have caught on the clutch pedal as the operator moves forward off the platform, pitching him/her forward, off the tractor. This can be prevented simply by facing the tractor when going up or down the steps and using the handholds. NEVER have extra riders. There is no seatbelt to keep the rider safe. Many children have fallen from tractors as an extra rider, even from cabs with supposedly locked cab doors.
Check for Clearance
A child or unseen adult in the vicinity of the tractor is at risk of being run over. The operator must be sure the area is clear before moving the tractor. Children should not be permitted to play in the area where tractors and other machinery are operating. Children should be restricted to a safely fenced play area. The operator should always drive the tractor and machinery at a safe speed especially near populated areas such as farm buildings. Also, keep the brake pedals locked together for simultaneous braking of the rear wheels in these areas. The time saved by operating the tractor at a higher rate of speed in potentially populated areas (the farmstead) is simply too little to justify risking human life. Reduce the speed, and be cautious when people are present.
Rearward Rollover- Agricultural tractors will easily tip to the rear when the rear wheels cannot rotate enough to move the machine forward. The process of a rearward tractor rollover can take as little as three fourths of a second, less than the reaction time of the average worker. Rearward tractor rollovers can be prevented by:
- releasing the clutch only when the rear wheels CAN rotate forward.
- using a reverse gear to break tractor tires from frozen conditions.
- choosing NOT to climb steep hills in a forward direction with a tractor.
- using a reverse gear to back the tractor up a steep hill where it is feasible.
- using only enough engine speed to start the tractor moving and using the clutch smoothly.
- changing tractor speed gradually by applying power smoothly.
- ballasting the tractor properly for the work to be done.
- appropriate use of tire chains, boards and other materials to improve traction of wheels that are slipping.
- hitching loads properly to the drawbar.
Sideway Rollovers- The wider the tractor (from outside edge to outside edge of the rear wheels) the more stable the machine is for any given angle of tilt to the side. The key is to keep the center of gravity low and safely centered. Sideway rollovers can be prevented by:
- properly ballasting of the tractor
- avoid driving on steep hillsides
- avoid turning at excessive speeds
- avoid driving too close to the edge of roadside ditches or slopes
- use a tractor equipped with Roll Over Protection Structures (ROPS). ROPS are operator compartment structures (usually cabs or frames) on the tractor. ROPS and proper seatbelt use can eliminate nearly all fatalities caused by tractor and lawn mower overturns. ROPS can be retrofitted onto older tractors to increase safety. 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 lowered position until a rollover condition is determined, at which time it deploys to a fully extended and locked position.
Avoid By-Pass Starting
An operator who starts a tractor while standing on the ground cannot be sure if the transmission is in neutral or in park. If a manual transmission is in gear when the engine is by-pass started, the tractor probably will run over the operator. 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 be sufficient for the operator to get out of the way. New tractors are sold with a shield covering the starter motor to prevent by-pass starting. Many older tractors did not have this shield. Now, a retro-fit shield that covers the by-pass contacts and prevents by-pass starting is available. This shield should not be removed from the starter motor except for servicing the starter motor, then replaced immediately.
Use Front-End Loaders Properly
Front-End Loader soften misused by stretching their lifting capacity, inappropriate use, and lack of safety equipment. Adequate ballasting of the loader-equipped tractor is essential for safe lifting. If the rear of the tractor is somewhat light and bouncy as the loader starts to lift the load, the safe operator needs to lower the load and safely add ballast to the machine. Farm workers moving big round bales should only use front-end loaders equipped with grapple forks to help grasp the bale and prevent it from rolling rearward, out of the bucket and down the arms of the loader toward the operator. Another choice would be a spear type bale mover, mounted on either the front or rear of the tractor. Always keep the load and the speed low when using the front-end loader and NEVER use it to lift people.
PTO Shaft Shields
All newer and most older tractors were equipped with a PTO master shield to cover the stub shaft when not in use. Master shields for PTO stub shafts should never be removed from the tractor except for maintenance work, and then 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. If 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 become crushed between a tractor and the machinery being attached. The worker should not enter the area between the tractor and the machine until the tractor has been stopped, shifted into neutral, and the brakes applied. The worker should step out of the area between if adjustments have to be made between the tractor and the machine, particularly if the tractor has to be closer to the machine.
Sharing the Road
Sometimes farm vehicles must operate on public roads to move between farms and fields. Although farmers are legally allowed to operate farm equipment on public roads, it’s important to exhibit extreme caution, courtesy and attention to other motorists and their passengers. Tractors and heavy machinery are so much larger than the average automobile; it’s important for farmers to drive offensively, and 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, 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. For more information about Sharing the Road, check out the Transportation/Heavy Equipment page.
Avoid running equipment on highways during rush hours, bad weather, and at night. If necessary, have pilot cars accompany you on the trip, one in front and one in back, with their hazard lights on to warn other motorists they are accompanying a slow-moving vehicle.
Once on the roadway, make sure your hazard lights are on and your SMV emblem can easily be seen by other motorists. Be aware of a build-up of traffic behind you when travelling; always look in your mirrors 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 on to the road. The more courtesy you extend to other motorists, the more courtesy they will give you, the farmer, in return.
Positioning the Wheel
The area between the front and rear wheels on either side of an articulated four wheel drive tractor is also a very dangerous place. If the steering wheel of some tractors is moved, even with the engine not running, the tractor will articulate later when the engine is started and can easily crush a human. Not all four wheel drive tractors are so closely coupled between front and rear sections that a crush will happen, but it is an area to stay out of as much as possible, especially when the engine is started or running.
Safe owner/operators need to add safety updates to machinery as they become available. These include tractor stability, visibility, and recognition, tractor safety decals, operator comfort and control, and protection from other hazards. Guided by your operator’s manual, set up a daily maintenance routine and put it on a checklist sheet for daily use. 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, using a piece of cardboard or wood rather than your hands. Escaping hydraulic fluid under pressure is capable of penetrating skin, causing serious injury.Tractor operators also need to make sure they are safe while repairing and maintaining equipment.
Do you have your required slow-moving vehicle (SMV) emblem?
According to the “Farm Safety: A Safe Farmer is a Successful Farmer” brochure, “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 displayed. For more information about the ASABE standard for SMV’s, check out the Transportation/Heavy Equipment page.
- 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