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Ag engineer says: No shortcuts with equipment safety

After a difficult, stressful growing season, some farmers will kick back and take it easy for a few weeks. Many will use the extra time repairing or tuning equipment.

But farmers need to exercise care as they work on equipment, warns Gary Huitink, an agricultural engineer and safety expert with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service. One practice in particular can result in painful injury or death, he said.

“Jump-starting farm tractors causes a number of injuries across Arkansas every year,” he said. “Over the 1990s, at least 39 people died in Arkansas from being run over, some in the process of starting a tractor.”

Jump-starting, which bypasses the ignition key and the safety locks in the transmission, is a dangerous practice, Huitink said.

The National Safety Council estimated that in one recent year 50 to 100 people were killed after bypassing the lock that prevents a tractor from being started in gear. Others, including several Arkansas farmers or equipment repair technicians, suffered life-long pain and disability from injuries.

The injury usually occurs when someone attempting to jump-start a tractor is directly in the path of the rear wheels. Tractors left in gear suddenly lurch forward when the engine fires or when the hydraulic transmission fluid is pressurized.

“The slower a person reacts to a tractor movement, the more likely he is to be crushed by the wheels,” Huitink said. “Often, elderly tractor operators are injured severely. Some have died before someone was able to rescue them.”

Huitink recommends that persons repairing tractors follow these safety tips:

  • Never attempt to start a tractor unless you are in the seat.

  • Install bypass starting kits on all tractors. Most tractor dealers have retrofit kits that can be installed rapidly and inexpensively. Request a kit that fits your tractor from your implement dealer.

  • Replace all worn or illegible warning stickers or decals on all of your tractors. Insist that everyone on your farm observe the warning about not jump-starting.

  • Make sure that all tractor operators on your farm have been trained about safe starting procedures and tractor operation. Instruct farm workers on safety rules regularly when tractors are being repaired or used for farm operations.

Huitink said more information on safe operation of farm tractors is available from Arkansas county Extension agents. Ask for Safe Tractor Operation, Fact Sheet FSA 1026.

Other farm safety information is available on Arkansas Extension's Web site at

Lamar James is an Extension communications specialist with the University of Arkansas.

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