Take Care With Tractors, Machinery

Know the Risks and Prevent Farm Equipment Accidents

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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National Farm Safety and Health Week is Sept. 20-26, 2020. (Logo courtesy of National Education Center for Agricultural Safety)

OMAHA (DTN) -- As fall harvest begins, using proper safety equipment and knowing how to operate farm machinery safely can go a long way to prevent equipment accidents. Not following these rules, however, can lead to severe injuries or even death for operators.

Sept. 20-26, 2020, is National Farm Safety and Health Week with the theme this year being "Every Farmer Counts." AgriSafe Network (https://www.agrisafe.org/…) is hosting nine free webinars during the week, including one titled "Planting Seeds of Tractor and Machinery Safety."


Aaron Yoder, associate professor of environmental, agricultural and occupational health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) in Omaha, talked about some of the dangers with operating tractors and machinery. He also talked about ways to improve safety during the hour-long webinar.

Yoder said those who operate tractors face many different hazards, including overturns, entanglements and falls. Mechanical hazards, such as shear points, and being crushed, cut or burnt also exist.

About a third to half of all fatal farm injuries involve tractors, he noted. Operators experience may range from a little to a lot, but they may have developed unsafe habits over time.


The most common type of tractor rollover is sideways, Yoder said. When the operator hits a bump and the tractor starts to tip over, gravity and centrifugal force affect the tractor, leading to the sideway rollover.

"There are many things to prevent sideway rollovers, from setting the wheels far apart to restricting speed to avoiding crossing steep slopes," Yoder advised.

Other ways to prevent a sideway rollover include to be extremely cautious around ditches, avoid causing the tractor to bounce, and keep front-end loaders close to the ground.


Rear rollovers are more likely to be fatal rollovers than sideway rollovers and can happen quickly, he said.

It can take as little as 0.75 of a second to get to the point of a rear rollover. Rear rollovers are caused by hitching too high, fast starts or popping the clutch.

There are several practices that should be done to avoid rear rollovers. These include to hitch loads only at the drawbar of the tractor, limit the height of the three-point hitch, start forward motion slowly and change speed gradually, avoid ditches or obstacles, and use caution when going up or down slopes.


Yoder said one safety device that can protect a tractor operator during a rollover is a rollover protection structure (ROPS).

A ROPS is designed to limit rollover to 90 degrees and protect the operator if the machine is pushed past this level. It provides space for a clearance zone if the tractor rolls over, he said.

A seat belt is required and must be used for the ROPS to be effective, Yoder said. "While a ROPS and a seat belt can save you during a rollover, these items will not prevent a rollover from occurring," he said.


Another major hazard when operating farm machinery is being entangled in the power take off (PTO) of an implement attached to a tractor.

Yoder said a 1,000 RPM shaft revolves 17 times in a second while a 540 RPM shaft moves at nine turns a second. A person will have almost no time to react if he got entangled in a PTO shaft.

Older PTO shafts have pins to attach the implement's PTO shaft to the tractor, which can act as hooks grabbing clothing. Newer PTO shafts have a collar eliminating this safety concern, he said.

All safety shields on the tractor and implement should be present and be in good shape. One basic way to avoid entanglement injuries and death is not to stand near operating PTO shafts.


Yoder said another danger with operating a tractor is being run over by the tractor. Nearly half of these incidents are from someone falling off an operating tractor, he said.

In 27% of the cases, bystanders (extra riders, kids, etc.) are the ones falling off the tractor and are run over, he said. Those who are injured in these accidents often see spinal and crushing injuries, as well as long-bone fractures.

The best way to avoid these injuries is to never allow riders on tractors. Yoder said he would not allow riders even on newer tractors with the training or "buddy" seat, as having a rider might interfere with the driver's concentration.


Nearly 13% of tractor fatalities involve a roadway incident, Yoder said. Often, machinery on roads face many dangers because of their slow speed and wide loads. Left-hand turns are an especially dangerous maneuver on a public road.

Yoder said there are practices operators can do to avoid these threats.

Only allow licensed drivers to operate machinery on the roads, although in many states this is not a law. Make sure slow-moving vehicle (SMV) signs are present and can be seen and lighting and markings are clean and operational.

"I think most people think it is more on vehicles (on the road) to obey traffic laws and show some courtesy, but these things also need to be done by farm equipment operators," Yoder said.


There are several different training programs available to teach younger farm machinery operators how to safely operate farm machinery, he said. Some are offered through 4-H, FFA and other ag educational groups.

Children under the age of 16 years old cannot operate farm machinery without training on farms unless they are working for their own parents. Children as young as 14 years old can legally operate farm machinery with the proper training.

Farm equipment training for children can found at https://ag-safety.extension.org/…

The University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC) offers the Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health (SC-CASH) as a resource for farm safety, which can found at https://www.unmc.edu/….

Russ Quinn can be reached at russ.quinn@dtn.com

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Russ Quinn