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Always be aware of tractor hazards

Mechanics Corner Published on 01 January 2012

Tractors are a primary source of work-related injury on farms, however, not all of the injuries happen while the tractor is being used for work.

Nationally, nearly one-third of all farm work fatalities are tractor related. Injuries occur for a variety of reasons and in a number of different ways.

This article will describe types of tractor hazards and the nature and severity of injuries associated with using farm tractors.

Hazard groups
There are several hazards associated with tractor operation. Tractor hazards are grouped into the following four categories:

  • overturns
  • runovers
  • power take-off entanglements
  • older tractors

Overturn
Tractor overturns is one major hazard group and accounts for the most farm-work fatalities. Approximately 50 percent of tractor fatalities come from tractors turning over either sideways or backward.

There are dozens of examples of tractor turnover situations. Most are preventable if operators follow good safe tractor operation practices.

A rollover protective structure (ROPS), a structural steel cage designed to surround the operator – particularly one that is built into an enclosed cab – can protect the operator from being killed when a tractor overturns.

This is especially true if the operator has fastened the seat belt. Remember, though, that a ROPS can protect you from injury but cannot keep the tractor from overturning in the first place.

This explains the importance of operating a tractor safely even if the tractor has a ROPS.

Runover
There are three basic types of tractor runover incidents. One is when a passenger (extra rider) on the tractor falls off.

Extra rider incidents happen because there is only one safe place for a person to be on a tractor, and that is in the operator’s seat.

Some new, larger tractors have an extra seat for temporary instructional purposes, but only if the tractor has an enclosed ROPS cab.

The tractors that most young and inexperienced operators drive will have only one seat—the operator’s seat. Standing on the tractor drawbar, axle housing, side links of three-point hitches, rear-wheel fenders, and the area immediately around the operator’s seat are common locations unsafely occupied by extra riders.

Extra riders rarely keep a tight handgrip on the tractor. Thus they can be easily thrown from the tractor.

Another runover incident involves the tractor operator either falling off the tractor as it is operating or being knocked out of the seat by a low-hanging tree branch or other obstacle.

This most often happens on older tractors that do not have a ROPS and have an older seat that has no arm or back rest (often called pan seats). A person can more easily lose his or her balance and can be knocked off or bounced out of a pan seat.

An operator can also be run over while trying to mount or dismount a moving tractor. This type of incident can occur when the operator leaves the tractor seat without first shutting off the tractor and setting the brake or placing it in park and the tractor moves unexpectedly.

This may happen during the hitching and unhitching of equipment. Shut off the tractor before dismounting for any reason.

The third type of runover incident involves a person who is on the ground near a tractor. This may include the tractor operator who tries to start a tractor from the ground while the tractor is in gear.

This usually involves an older tractor that can be started in gear or a newer tractor when an operator attempts to bypass a newer tractor’s safe start-up design.

Small children, often under the age of five, are sometimes run over by a tractor (and equipment) as it is moved around the farmstead.

Often, the tractor operator is unaware that the child is near the tractor. A loud noise, such as the start up of a tractor, is often attractive to a young child and he or she may run toward it as it starts or begins to move.

Power take-off entanglement
The tractor power take-off (PTO) stub is another major hazard. The PTO stub transfers power from the tractor to PTO-powered machinery.

The PTO stub normally turns between 540 and 1,000 revolutions per minute. At this rate, the stub is turning from nine to 17 times per second.

This is much faster than a human being can react if he or she is caught and pulled into or around the PTO stub or shaft.

A person can have an arm or leg wrapped around a PTO stub shaft before they know they are in danger. A PTO master shield protects a person from the PTO stub.

Some tractors have PTO stub guards that fasten to the PTO stub. All tractors should have a PTO master shield to protect the tractor operator and helpers.

Older tractors
Older tractors should always be included when talking about tractor hazards. Many farm tractors still used for work may be 30 to 40 years old or older.

These older tractors are often less safe to operate because they do not have modern safety features, and because some parts of the older tractor may not have been maintained in good working condition.

A list of reasons why older tractors may be less safe to operate includes:

  • lack of ROPS and seat belt
  • a seat without arm and back rests (pan seat)
  • seat does not adjust easily or at all
  • absence of a safety start system• no bypass starting protection
  • rear brakes and brake pedals do not operate properly
  • front wheels do not turn as quickly as the steering wheel turns
  • tractor has no warning flashers or the flashers do not work
  • PTO master shield is missing or does not offer adequate protection

Young and inexperienced workers may be given older tractors to operate in many cases. The older tractor is best suited for the types of jobs a young or inexperienced operator is hired to do.

These tractors are best suited for raking hay, hauling wagons, and mowing fields or pastures. Young and inexperienced operators should be given newer tractors to operate when possible.  FG

—Excerpts from National Safe Tractor and Machinery Operation Program task sheet

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