Equipment safety is key to keeping farm workers healthy

Third in a series of four articles on farm safety and the Farm Safe program.

Transportation accidents, which include rollovers of tractors and other equipment, are the leading cause of death among farmers and farm workers, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The majority of these fatalities can be prevented with proper use of safety equipment and training.

The Farm Safe program developed and administered by Agricenter International in Memphis, Tennessee, provides free online safety training for the farming/rural community. The program offers a series of online safety modules that can be taken if time permits.

“Safety training is really important,” said Pam Robinson. “It’s important because after the accident it’s not the time to train, it’s too late – the horse is out of the stable at that time.”

Equipment operation and maintenance is the number one cause of farm injuries, Farm Safe offers at least nine modules on the use of farm equipment on our farm and ranches.

The agricultural and rural environment provides a multitude of opportunities for potential injury. And, although safety devices are installed on most agricultural equipment, due to a lack of safety training at the farm level, these devices can lead to accidents.

Tractor operation

Eighty-five percent of tractor rollovers are side rollovers, caused by the imbalance of the tractor’s center of gravity. Rollover Protection (ROP) can protect operators in these situations, but only if used with a seat belt to prevent the occupant from being ejected from the tractor.

Ensuring the tractor’s center of gravity is low to the ground and loads are not out of balance are key to preventing rollovers, according to Farm Safe. Other causes of rollovers are driving too fast in turns, driving on an incline, driving with a loaded front loader, and uneven brake application when traveling at high speed.

To avoid rollovers, set tractor wheels as wide as possible, stay away from the edges of ditches, slopes and streams. Making sure counterweights are in place for heavy loads or equipment adds stability and maintains traction.

Slopes can be dangerous. If it can be avoided, do not back up on a slope as this could cause the tractor to tip backwards. Turn around and descend if possible.

Even a gentle slope can be dangerous. Do not ride diagonally on a slope, in order to avoid rolling.

Use the lowest possible gear downhill to minimize braking and make sure you don’t step on the brake and clutch.

All terrain vehicles

The same goes for all-terrain vehicles (ATVs). Due to their lighter weight and speed, they are more prone to rollovers.

“ATVs have become more useful and are more frequently used around the farm,” Robinson said. “They are used with livestock as well as for supply. They can get into areas your truck may not be able to get into.”

Robinson notes that because they’re more accessible, they’re more fun.

“But people still have to remember that they are not a toy,” she said. “There are still significant security issues that need to be acknowledged.”

Seat belts and helmets must be worn to ensure rider safety. Distractions should be avoided, including driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, texting or talking on a cell phone, using headphones to listen to music, being tired, boredom and simply inattention.

Part 1: The Safety Program Equips Farmers with Valuable Tools

Part 2: Getting through the harvest with a safety plan

It only takes a second for an accident to happen, and if distracted, the reaction time may not be enough to avoid an injury, according to the Farm Safe ATV Safety module.

“ATVs and side-by-sides have become a very valuable tool,” said John Butler, president of Agricenter International. “It’s also important to be properly trained on mountain bikes. We encourage everyone to always wear a helmet.”

Besides seat belts and helmets, safety features for ATVs should include flags, reflectors and lights for visibility. A first aid kit, communication devices such as cell phones or two-way radios are also important on the farm.

Passengers should only be carried on ATVs equipped with additional seats and seat belts. Carrying more passengers than the vehicle is designed to carry hinders the driver’s ability to drive the vehicle and provides an unnecessary distraction.

Equipment maintenance

Equipment maintenance is also important to keep farm workers safe. A well-maintained vehicle does not break down as often and reduces the risk of injury, but driving the vehicle is not the only source of danger.

“There are so many things on the farm that can create hazards for us,” Butler said. “PTO shafts, mechanical headers, working under equipment, grain bins, I mean the list of potential hazards goes on and on. It is so important to take a few minutes to help create a culture of safety on our farms.

Farm equipment is designed to dig, harvest, pull and move. There are wrap points, shear points, pinch points and crush points involved. The stored energy of pressurized lines, the burn potential of hot engines, and the unexpected object being thrown from a piece of equipment are all sources of injury.

Farm Safe recommends the following:

  • Tagout and lockout procedures are often very important to prevent accidental or inadvertent re-energization of equipment.
  • Anyone who uses or maintains equipment must be trained in how to control energy sources, including electrical, mechanical, chemical and hydraulic.
  • Checklists can help identify problems and safety hazards before anyone is injured or equipment is damaged. When maintaining or servicing equipment, identify and prepare for all possible safety hazards.
  • If a safety hazard requires some type of personal protective equipment – safety glasses, heat-resistant gloves or steel-toed footwear – make sure you have the right tool for the right job and be fully trained in the use and maintenance of this personal protective equipment.

“It’s important to recognize where your security risks are,” Robinson said. “Make sure you have a plan if a worst-case scenario or accident affects your operation. What are you going to do?”

The Farm Safe resource can be found at The program is funded by a grant from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the United States Department of Labor.

Luz W. German