Safe handling of farm equipment and vehicles
Farm equipment is involved in more than one in three farm-related deaths. These machines are also involved in many accidents which result in life-changing injuries such as the loss of a limb.
Modern tractors, telehandlers and other equipment have given farmers the ability to work more quickly and efficiently. But this machinery brings new dangers.
Before you start any job
Before working with farm equipment and vehicles take a moment to stop and think about safety at all times.
Always take care when mounting or dismounting the vehicle. Only start the vehicle with a key when in the driving seat. Check brakes are working properly and keep them maintained.
Think about the 'Safe Stop' procedure and always follow it. Complete four simple steps:
- apply the hand brake
- put the controls in neutral
- turn off the engine
- remove the key
Think about all-round visibility. Drivers should be able to see around their vehicles to drive and manoeuvre safely. For a tractor this normally means having the side mirrors in place. Achieving all round visibility with telehandlers will depend on the design - is the boom front or side mounted? Your telehandler may require side mirrors and sometimes a fish eye mirror or camera at the back.
Think about added hazards. Other equipment that can be attached to a tractor, may bring additional dangers.
Remember to think about others who may be hurt – family, employees, visitors. Make sure equipment users are trained and competent. Never put an inexperienced person or a child at risk with farm equipment and vehicles.
Preventing loss of vehicle control
The driver must be trained and know how to operate the vehicle safely. Before use, always check that the brakes are working and that they are interlocked. If the implement being trailed has hydraulic or pneumatic brakes, make sure they are connected. Check the surface that will be driven on and drive appropriately for the conditions.
If a driver loses control of a vehicle, a roll-over protective system (ROPS) will reduce the harm done. Make sure all your vehicles have the ROPS system in place. This means that all vehicles should have a safety cab, or at the very least an approved roll bar.
Seat belts must always be worn if they are fitted. If there is no safety cab and only a roll bar then ensure that seatbelts are retro-fitted.
Guarding PTO shafts
Power-take-off shafts are the power source for many machines that are attached to and powered by tractors. The shaft can rotate at speeds up to 1,000 revolutions per minute (rpm). A PTO shaft must always be correctly guarded as shown in this diagram.
Ensure you use shaft guards made to a recognised standard such as BS EN ISO 5674.
Broken, damaged or badly-fitting PTO guards are as dangerous as an unguarded PTO shaft, as a faulty guard can give a false sense of security. Repair or replacement is vital and could save lives.
Never wear loose clothes when operating machines powered by PTOs.
Care around hydraulics
Many machines and attachments for tractors are powered by hydraulics. Oil is pumped from the tractor to the equipment through pipes at very high pressures over 2,500 pounds per square inch (psi).
Always check pipes for leaks before using hydraulic equipment. Repair or replace damaged pipes or couplings before use. Never place a finger near any leak in a hydraulic hosepipe, and seek medical attention if any oil is forced under the skin.
Managing other hazards
There are many other dangers associated with farm equipment, so it is vital to be aware of the risks and take steps to prevent accidents. When clearing blockages in a machine attached to a tractor, be sure both tractor and machine have been fully stopped and there is no power going to the machine.
Before carrying out any repairs to equipment, check that you have the appropriate equipment for the job, such as a trolley jack or correct props.
Consider employing a competent mechanic to carry out the repairs. Be aware of the height of any overhead power lines near where you are working and avoid tipping trailers near them.
Pulling heavy machinery such as slurry tankers and large trailers will make stopping the tractor more difficult. Always attach the hydraulic brakes if fitted.
Certain vehicles require specific training such as telescopic handlers and all terrain vehicles (quads), this is a legal requirement under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (NI) 1999 and any person operating such vehicles on the farm during a work activity must be adequately trained to do so.
There are also age and weight restrictions for certain agricultural vehicles, you should make yourself aware of these legal requirements by contacting your insurance provider for advice or by viewing the following links for details:
- Learning to drive a tractor or specialist vehicle: Age limits - (GOV.UK website)
- Driving licence requirements for agricultural vehicles - (NFU website)
Telescopic handlers fall under a specific set of regulations, namely the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (NI) 1999. This set of regulations requires the owner of the vehicle to have it thoroughly examined at certain specified intervals, depending on what the machine is being used for. For more information on statutory inspections and thorough examination you should contact your insurance provider.
Equipment safety checklist
- keep all guards in place on tractors and equipment
- ensure PTO shafts are fully guarded (O-guard, U-guard and shaft) and the safety chain is attached
- make sure that all mirrors and cameras (if fitted) are clean and fully functional on tractors and telescopic handlers
- keep all windows clean and make sure you check all round before carrying out any manoeuvre
- ensure you have good all-round visibility on tractors and telehandlers
- when pulling heavy machinery equipped with hydraulic brakes, make sure the brakes are connected to the tractor and work properly
- keep the brakes on all your machines properly maintained, especially the parking brakes
- operate tractors with enclosed safety cabs or roll bars
- take care when mounting or dismounting tractors or telehandlers
- only start your tractor from the driver’s seat and make sure that your tractor’s starter system works properly
- check all hitches and linkages to ensure they are not worn or damaged
- make sure equipment is stopped fully before clearing blockages, which need to be cleared by hand
- make sure you have relevant adequate training for specific vehicles such as telescopic handlers and all terrain vehicles
- ensure any lifting equipment, including telescopic handlers, which falls under the scope of the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations (NI) 1999, is thoroughly examined and fully complies with these regulations
- attempt to repair machinery if you do not have the correct tools and equipment and are not competent to do so
- run a tractor down a slope to start it
- check hydraulic pipes for leaks by running your finger along them while they are connected and under pressure
- work underneath a raised load or implement unless it is adequately propped
- work near overhead power lines when tipping trailers or using high-reaching machinery
Farmers and farm workers use tractors and other equipment every day. These machines are powerful, and if not operated safely, can lead to disabling injuries or death.
Many of the steps essential to keeping you safe only require a few moments’ thought.
Remember too that operators and drivers should know how to operate and look after these machines safely. Equipment that is not maintained properly can cause accidents.
Guards need to be kept in good condition and used properly. It could save your life.
An Introduction to Tractor Safety - online course
This course is an introduction to tractor safety and highlights the important safety considerations around working with tractors and farm machinery. It has been developed by the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) with the support of HSENI. Click on the link below to go to the course: