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Tractor hazards include overturns, entanglements, and falls. Mechanical hazards include getting crushed, burned, cut, or getting pulled into equipment. Whether a machine is stationary or moving, there are dangers present.

Plant safe practices for operating a tractor during harvest

During an AgriSafe webinar, Aaron Yoder shared tips for tractor and machinery safety.

Operating machinery, such as a tractor, comes with several hazards. It is essential to incorporate basic safety protocols to prevent farm accidents.

"It's important to be aware of the hazards associated with tractors and machinery as well as have strategies to reduce the possibility of an injury," said Aaron Yoder, associate professor for the Department of Environmental, Agricultural, and Occupational Health at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

"We need to plant the seeds of safety. We've all heard different versions of the saying that we reap what we sow, so making sure that we start with a good foundation of safety will help keep us and others from experiencing an injury."

Safety training for those working on the farm can help minimize injuries, especially if safe practices are ingrained early on.

Possible risks

"Tractors are one of the most prevalent sources of injury since they are probably the most widely used piece of equipment on most agricultural operations," Yoder said.

Tractors are used daily for many hours to accomplish different tasks.

"Total time of exposure for a tractor is probably greater than any other type of equipment on the farm," he said. "We do diverse jobs with tractors, anything from tillage to planting to harvesting.

"In some cases, having a diversity of jobs is a good thing because then we don't get the same repetitive injuries from doing the same tasks over and over. However, it also requires us to know more about how to be safe doing those different tasks.

"During harvest time, we see a lot of towing and pulling equipment. Tractors and other machinery have several of the same common machine hazards."

Hazards include overturns, entanglements, and falls. Mechanical hazards include getting crushed, burned, cut, or getting pulled into equipment. Whether a machine is stationary or moving, there are dangers present.

"We know there is a wide range of operators from youth with little experience to adults who have operated tractors for a long time but may have picked up some bad habits," Yoder said. "Tractor fatalities and tractor-related incidents are a large portion of farm injuries. A third to half of all farm injuries involve tractors."

Tractor sideways rollovers

Sideways rollovers are the most common type of tractor rollover.

"This usually occurs when the tractor is on too steep of a hill, and oftentimes, the person in the tractor gets thrown to the side."

Ways to prevent a sideways rollover include having the wheels set as wide as possible, restricting speed according to the conditions, avoid bouncing, slowing down on turns, and using engine brakes on downhill grades. Also, avoid crossing steep slopes and use caution around ditches.

"Frontloader scoops should be kept low when the tractor is moving," he said. "A roll bar or rollover protection structure (ROPS) as well as wearing a seatbelt help to protect an individual if the machine tips over."

Tractor rear overturns

Another type of tractor overturn is a rear overturn, which is more likely to be fatal, especially if the operator doesn't have a roll bar on the tractor.

"Rear overturns can happen fairly quickly when the front end comes up in the air, and then the tractor comes completely over the top," Yoder said. "Typically, instead of getting thrown out of the way of the tractor like in sideways rollovers, you stay pinned underneath the machine, which causes them to be even more fatal."

Some causes of rear overturns are hitching too high, so hitch towed loads only to the drawbar. Limit the height of the three-point hitch by putting it down as low as possible and use weights for balance such as front-end weights or wheel weights if applicable.

"Starting too fast or popping the clutch can cause the front end to come up even quicker," he said. "Usually, hitching too high is the main cause. Oftentimes, it's in tasks we don't normally do where rear overturns become a problem such as with hitching a stuck vehicle or machine to pull it out with the tractor. There's always a higher risk of injury when we're doing tasks we're not as used to doing."

Also, by starting forward motion slowly and changing speed gradually as well as avoiding ditches or obstructions, these practices can help prevent rear overturns.

"Keep the center of gravity in the middle of the machine by starting forward motion slowly and use caution when going up and down slopes," Yoder said. "Overloading and pulling too much weight is also another cause of rear overturns.

"A certified rollover protection structure's purpose is to limit the rollover to 90 degrees either to the side or to the rear, so it doesn't roll completely on top, or it doesn't make more than a quarter of a turn," he said. "It doesn't prevent rollovers from occurring, but it will help minimize the impact of rollovers that do occur alongside wearing a seatbelt."

However, it is better to not wear a seatbelt on a tractor without a roll bar because then there is more of a likelihood of being crushed by the tractor if the machine flips entirely over. The roll bar works best in combination with wearing a seatbelt.

Tractor runovers

Runovers are another cause of major injuries and fatalities.

"Oftentimes, the accident occurs with an extra rider, by the rider falling off the tractor," Yoder said. "Children playing around tractors and not realizing the risks is another problem. A bystander or worker can also be at risk if an operator loses control of the machine."

As to not interfere with a driver's concentration, it's best to have no extra riders. Children riding on tractors and falling off is one major cause of child farm fatality.

"Extra seats in tractors are called training seats because they're only supposed to be used for training an operator or train someone to do a task," Yoder said. "Also, the rollover protective structure only protects the primary operator. If an accident occurs, it will not help the passenger.

"For more teaching resources on tractor and machinery safety information, search https://ag-safety.extension.org/ where we have programs such as our one called Safety in Agriculture for Youth."

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