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Farm Equipment Safety

New farm equipment is specifically designed for safe handling and operation. Older farm equipment is outdated and missing some of the latest standard safety features. The following sections discuss general guidelines for farm equipment safety, including farmstead equipment, farm field equipment, guards, shields, and power take-off equipment (PTOs).

General Equipment Safety

Keeping equipment in good working condition is half the formula for being safe. The other half is the ability and awareness of the person operating the equipment.

Safety = Good Working Equipment + Able and Aware Operator

Equipment failure causes some farm accidents; however, most farm accidents are caused by tired, stressed, rushed, distracted, or incompetent operators.

In addition to the specific safe handling rules for each type of farm equipment, there are ten basic guidelines for equipment safety:

  • Read and comply with the operator's safety manual for each piece of farm equipment.
  • Prepare for safety by wearing appropriate clothing, having enough rest, not drinking alcohol, and ensuring that all workers have been trained and are capable of safely using the farm equipment.
  • Keep all guards, shields, and access doors in place when the equipment is in operation
  • Be aware of what you are doing and where you are going.
  • Adjust equipment speed to fit operating conditions.
  • Keep children and other people away from the working area.
  • Take breaks from work, as necessary.
  • Always stop the engine, disconnect the power source, and wait for all moving parts to stop, before servicing, adjusting, cleaning, or unclogging equipment.
  • Display the slow moving vehicle emblem on equipment driven on public roadways
  • Allow the engine to cool before refueling.

Farmstead Equipment

Farmstead equipment is agricultural machinery that is normally stationary. This includes materials handling equipment and accessories for such equipment whether or not the equipment is an integral part of a building. Examples of farmstead equipment include cotton gins, grain augers, crushers, sorters, and miscellaneous belt-driven equipment.

Farmstead equipment should have an audible warning device to indicate that the machine is about to be started. Refer to Electrical Lockout/Tagout procedures (Chapter 5) to safely perform repairs or maintenance on electrical equipment. Farmstead equipment that is not properly guarded and shielded may pinch, crush, electrocute, or otherwise harm humans. Refer to the operator's manual for specific safety instructions for each piece of equipment.

Farm Field Equipment

Farm field equipment is agricultural machinery that is normally mobile. Examples of farm field equipment include combines, tractors and their implements, including self-propelled implements. Because tractor accidents account for 500 to 600 fatalities each year, this section will focus primarily on tractor safety.

General Tractor Safety

Tractor accidents are the leading cause of fatalities and accidents on Texas farms and ranches. Approximately 42% of these accidents are the result of operators being run over by tractors, 36% are due to tractor roll-overs, and 5% involve riders who fall off the tractor and are then run over by the attached trailing equipment.

The following guidelines offer general safety tips for operating tractors:

  • Know your tractor and how to use it safely. Regularly review the safety precautions in your operator's manual.
  • Prepare for tractor work by inspecting the vehicle and wearing appropriate clothing.
  • Ensure that new and inexperienced workers are properly trained in tractor operation.
  • Never allow riders. A tractor should have only one person on board.
  • Teach children to use tractors only after they have developed the strength, size, and maturity to operate a tractor safely.
  • Install an approved roll-over protective structure (ROPS) and seat belt on any tractor that is not equipped with these features. ROPS prevent tractor turnover injuries, but only if the seat belt is worn.
  • Always wear a seat belt, when driving a tractor equipped with a ROPS.
  • Disengage drives and turn the engine off before leaving the tractor unattended.
  • Keep yourself and others away from moving parts.
  • Hitch loads only to the drawbar. When using three-point rear hitches, add front end weights to maintain stability and control steering.
  • Never bypass start the engine.

Tractor Driving Safety

The following guidelines provide tips for tractor driving safety:

  • Watch where you are going at all times. Be sure everyone is out of the way before moving.
  • Watch for and avoid obstacles, ditches, embankments, and holes.
  • Slow down when turning, crossing slopes, or driving on rough, slick, or muddy surfaces.
  • It is safer to back up an incline.
  • Apply power slowly when pulling a heavy load.
  • Lock the brake pedals together for single action braking.

Tractor operators can help prevent back roll-overs as follows:

  • Only hitch loads to the drawbar.
  • Limit the height of three-point hitches.
  • Use front-end weights to stabilize heavy hauling loads.
  • Start slowly.
  • Change gears carefully.

Tractor operators can help prevent side roll-overs as follows:

  • Increase tractor width, if possible.
  • Lock brakes together for road travel.
  • Operate tractors only as recommended.
  • Avoid steep slopes and ditches.
  • Be ca reful when pulling heavy loads or working with a front-end loader.
  • Turn corners slowly.

Roll-Over Protective Structures

ROPS consist of cabs or frames that protect tractor operators. They are designed to prevent tractor roll-over injuries. All tractors manufactured after October 25, 1976 must have ROPS. Older tractors may be retrofitted with a ROPS obtained from the tractor manufacturer. Installing a makeshift metal bar is not sufficient to protect people from the dangers of a tractor rollover. An OSHA-approved ROPS that meets durability tests is the only real protection against rollover injuries.

The only types of tractors that do not require ROPS include the following:

  • Low profile tractors used for work that would interfere with a ROPS (e.g., picking orchards, vineyards, hopyards, etc.).
  • Tractors with mounted equipment that is incompatible with a ROPS (e.g., cornpickers, cottonstrippers, fruit harvesters, etc.)

Bypass Starting

Bypass starting occurs when an operator "bypasses" normal safety procedures and the normal starting system. A typical bypass occurs when someone standing on the ground touches a screwdriver or other metal object to the starter contacts and activates the engine. This action avoids standard safety devices that keep the engine from starting without someone in the driver's seat. Another method of bypass starting occurs when someone uses the starting button to start a tractor from the ground.

Any method of bypass starting is extremely dangerous. If the tractor is in gear when the bypass occurs, the machine will start and can injure or kill anyone in its path. This situation is even more serious if the tractor is equipped with a hydraulic clutch. If a tractor with a hydraulic clutch is bypass started, it will not move immediately, but it will lurch suddenly with the buildup of hydraulic pressure.

All tractor operators should follow these safe starting rules:

  • Never start a tractor by shorting across the starter terminals.
  • Keep tractors in good working order so they will start normally.
  • If a tractor has a neutral start switch, but it starts in gear with the key or starter button, something is wrong. Fix the tractor immediately.
  • Never wire around or defeat the neutral start switch.
  • Always place a tractor in neut ral or park before starting it.
  • Never start a tractor from the ground.

Grain Augers

A grain auger is a piece of farm equipment that helps transfer grain from one location to another. Tractor operators that move grain augers should take special precautions when working with this equipment.

Moving grain augers in their elevated position may result in electrocution if the equipment contacts overhead power lines.

Farm owners, managers, and operators should ensure that augers are in the lowered position before moving them. In addition, all augers should have warning signs that indicate the potential electrical hazards associated with moving the auger upright. Functional components of augers must be guarded to the fullest extent possible.

Hydraulic Equipment Safety

Farm equipment operators must be extremely careful when working around hydraulic equipment. Hydraulic pressure is often strong enough to knock a person out if a leak or explosion occurs.

Follow these guidelines when working with hydraulic equipment:

  • Inspect hydraulic equipment regularly for leaks. Report and fix any leaks immediately.
  • Ensure that all couplings are properly installed and in good working condition.
  • Ensure that all lines and fittings are in good condition. Repair or replace any equipment that is not in good condition.
  • Lock transport wheels and support jacks on implements in place before disconnecting hydraulic cylinders. This action will prevent sudden shocks to the machine or personal injury.
  • Keep couplings and hoses in good repair so that the hydraulic system can safely sustain maximum pressure.

Guards, Shields, and PTOs

Guards and shields are extremely important because they keep operators from inadvertently contacting, or being caught, by moving machinery parts. Ensure that moving parts are guarded or shielded whenever possible. In addition, to prevent burns or fires, shield heat-producing components (e.g., exhaust pipes).

Since all moving parts cannot be guarded due to their function, stay clear of these machines when they are in operation. In addition, turn these machines off if they need service, maintenance, or repair.

If you take guards or shields off, put them back on the machine. Replace them if they are lost or damaged.

Guards and shields are absolutely essential for PTO farm equipment. Leave the master shield in place when the implement is unhitched. Replace missing or damaged shields immediately.

May 2011
Reviewed November 2014