Revised September 2007
Marjorie R. Margentino, Former Program Associate in Animal Science; Karyn Malinowski, Ph.D., Director of the Equine Science Center

It is important to be safety conscious when doing any job that requires the use of machinery. Statistics show that the majority of machinery-related accidents occur as the result of human negligence. Errors include: taking shortcuts to save time; failing to read the operator’s manual; ignoring a warning; improper or insufficient instruction; failing to follow safety rules; and improper or inadequate maintenance.

Operation of Farm Machinery

The operation of farm machinery is serious business, and should be treated as such. To avoid any type of machinery-related injury, strict safety practices must be employed.

  • Never operate machinery under the influence of drugs or alcohol, including prescription or over-the-counter medicines that cause drowsiness. The operator not only puts himself or herself in danger, but also anyone who may be working with him or in the general area. There is never an exception to this rule.
  • Before allowing anyone to use a power tool or piece of equipment – whether it be a family member, friend or an employee – be sure the person has had complete training in the item to be used, and is made aware of hazards that may occur with its misuse. Training should be done by a person knowledgeable of that particular piece of equipment. Besides actual training programs, manuals should be read from cover to cover.
  • Protective clothing should be worn during the operation of farm machinery. Never wear baggy or loose-fitting shirts or pants. Loose clothing is easily caught in rotating machine parts. Once caught in a moving part, it is almost impossible to escape without injury.
  • Most machinery is designed for one rider, not two or three. This rule should be strictly enforced. Research conducted in Ohio found that 13% of tractor fatalities in that state involved extra riders; 73% of these victims were under 10 years of age. In 42% of the cases the driver was the father or a brother, and 24% of the drivers were between the ages of 11 and 15.
  • Do not allow anyone to ride on machinery except the driver; passengers can easily be thrown or knocked off the vehicle.
  • Persons should not be allowed to ride in the bucket of loaders, on tongues between truck/tractor and the implement, or on any implement being towed. When it is necessary for a rider to be on an implement, such as a hay wagon, extra precautions should be taken to avoid any injury to this person.
  • Keep all people away from work areas and working machinery unless they are actively involved in the work. Many people are needlessly injured when watching, simply because they get in the way of flying debris or the machine itself. Most are also wearing inadequate protection.
  • Motors should be shut down on any piece of equipment that is being refueled. Employees should be instructed on how to properly refuel equipment; to do periodic maintenance checks on the tank, pump, hose, nozzle; and to abide by safety rules such as not smoking when around the fueling area.
  • Whenever parking or leaving a piece of machinery for any length of time – even to check a malfunction – the motor should always be shut off, brakes engaged, the transmission in park-lock or in gear, keys removed and any attachments (in the case of a baler or mower) disengaged. Numerous people are seriously injured or killed by being run-over by improperly parked tractors, with or without the engine running.
  • Safety guards should always be in place when operating any piece of machinery.
  • All tractors should be equipped with Roll Over Protective Structures (ROPS). Nearly all tractor flips or roll-overs without ROPS result in fatalities. Most newer tractors come equipped with a factory-installed ROPS. It is important to remember that not all tractor cabs are ROPS. Some are designed strictly to shield the operator from the weather. Check with the tractor manufacturer to determine if the cab is an ROPS cab. If a tractor without a ROPS is being used, it is suggested that a ROPS be installed. However, a ROPS is not something thrown together in the machine shed. ROPS need to be properly designed, manufactured and installed in order to be fully effective. Contact your local farm equipment dealer for purchase and installation information.
  • Seat belts should be worn when operating machinery equipped with ROPS. Seat belts will keep you within the “safety zone” of the ROPS in the case of a flip or roll-over. Even when operating machinery equipped with an enclosed cab, it is important to use seat belts to prevent the likelihood of being thrown out the door, through a window or into the cab frame.
  • Falling Object Protective Structures (FOPS) should be installed on equipment where the user runs the risk of being struck by falling debris. Front end loaders are an example of equipment that requires this type of structure. Installation details follow the procedures outlined for ROPS above.
  • All farm equipment traveling on any roadway should be equipped with an approved Slow Moving Vehicle (SMV) emblem. Emblems should be placed on all tractors and any implements that will be towed. Emblems should be clean and in good shape. Broken, worn or discolored emblems should be replaced.
  • Farm equipment used on public roadways requires lights conforming to state motor vehicle codes.
  • When traveling on public roadways, obey traffic laws. Many tractor-related accidents occur when traveling on roadways. Within the last 10 years there has been a sharp increase in the number of tractor/roadway accidents. This is due in part to the increase in auto traffic on rural roads and the increased need for farmers to have equipment on the road to get from field to field.
  • Often because of the high level of noise associated with machinery it is advisable to develop a system of hand signals to use during operation. A standardized system of signals has been developed by the American Society of Agricultural Engineers. A copy of these signals is available through ASAE.
  • All implements and attachments should be used in the proper manner for which they were designed, and lowered completely to the ground when exiting or shutting-down the tractor. Never over-load wagons.
  • If a piece of equipment becomes clogged or jammed, never attempt to clean out the blockage until the machine is shut off and all moving parts come to a complete stop.
  • Never tow an implement improperly hitched to a tractor or truck. Equipment being towed should be hitched directly to the draw bar with a hitch pin secured in place by a cotter pin. Do not tow implements with chains, cables or ropes. The breakage of chains, cables and ropes while towing can cause severe, even fatal, injuries to the driver and bystanders. The draw-bar on a tractor or the hitch on a truck should be kept as low as possible. Do not exceed the maximum height recommended by the tractor manufacturer. Never attach equipment to the tractor frame or axle. The improper balance can cause a back flip-over.
  • Terrain should always be taken into consideration when driving farm vehicles. When a tractor’s center of gravity moves behind the point where the rear tractor wheels are touching the ground, a flip-over is likely. To prevent tractor roll-over, avoid driving on steep slopes, through ditches, on extremely rough ground, or over stumps and large rocks. Do not drive along the edge of streams or pits. The chance of the bank collapsing from the weight of the tractor is high. When traveling downhill, always keep the tractor or truck in gear. Do not “free wheel”. Seek an alternate route around potential danger areas. If an alternate route is not possible, proceed cautiously at slow speeds.
  • Do not try to tow loads that are too heavy for the tractor. Too much towing weight can cause a tractor to go out of control due to the “whipping” action of the load.
  • Many tractor accidents involve excessive speed. Drive at a speed appropriate for: 1) the job you are doing; 2) the terrain over which you are traveling; and 3) the piece(s) of equipment you are using. Remember to slow down whenever making turns.

In the past 20 years, the all-terrain vehicle (ATV) has become a common piece of machinery on numerous farms. Regardless of its popularity, the ATV is one of the most dangerous and deadly pieces of equipment. Since 1982, there have been over 6,494 ATV-related deaths and over 1.7 million emergency-room-treated injuries nationwide. Many of these deaths and injuries could have been prevented if the safety rules outlined above had been observed.

Maintenance of Farm Machinery

  • During the repair of any machinery, appropriate protective clothing should be worn. This includes helmets, goggles, gloves, hearing protection and safety shoes. Do not wear baggy clothing. Loose-fitting clothing can easily catch in rotating machinery parts.
  • All machinery should be maintained regularly. Any worn or broken parts should be replaced immediately, not fixed in a temporary manner. When repairs are made, the machine should be fixed according to manufacturers’ specifications.
  • When repairs are made, any guard removed during repair must be replaced before the equipment is used.
  • Check tire inflation periodically to prevent flats and blowouts.
  • Whenever preparing to work on a piece of equipment, block wheels to prevent movement. Any jacks used should be stable and in good condition.
  • Inspect brakes, hitches, safety chains, springs and shackles regularly for wear, broken or missing parts and cracks in the welds.

Inspect hydraulic and air lines regularly for wear and cracks. Replace lines that show any sign of damage. Caution should be taken when working on hydraulic systems. Make sure all pressure in the system is relieved and that the fluid is cool before loosening any fittings or removing lines. Wear leather or rubber gloves.

References:

  1. Harshman, W.C., A.M. Yoder, J.W. Hilton and D.J. Murphy. 2004. Hand Signals: National Safe Tractor and Machinery Operation Program.
  2. Murphy, Dennis J. and William C. Harshman. 2006. Extra Riders on Farm Equipment. Pennsylvania State University Extension Bulletin E 40.
  3. Purschwitz, Mark A. 1990. “Fatal Farm Injuries to Children.” Wisconsin Rural Health Research Center. Marshfield, WI.
  4. Schneider, Rollin D. 1984. Safe Tractor Operation. Nebraska Cooperative Extension EC 89-2103.
  5. West Virginia University Cooperative Extension Service. “Beware of Farm Machine Hazards.” SA-21.4.
  6. Wisconsin Rural Health Research Center. 1990. “A Guide to Tractor Roll Bars & Other Rollover Protective Structures.”
  7. U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission “2005 Report of ATV Deaths and Injuries.”

Other related Rutgers Cooperative Extension Fact Sheets:

Mead, John A. and Helsel, Zane R. “Operating Mowers Safely.” 1991 Rutgers Cooperative Extension, FS583.

This publication was made possible in part by a grant from the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Program on Agricultural Health Promotion Systems for New Jersey.

Cooperating Agencies: Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and County Boards of Chosen Freeholders. Rutgers Cooperative Extension, a unit of the Rutgers New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, is an equal opportunity program provider and employer.

© 2007 by Rutgers Cooperative Extension, NJAES, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. All rights reserved.