NC State Extension

Safe Farm Machinery Operation

Modern agriculture has become increasingly more mechanized to reduce labor and improve efficiency, but this has also increased exposure for both operators and bystanders to machinery hazards. Agriculture continues to rank as one of the most hazardous industries in the United States, and farmers are at a very high risk for fatal and nonfatal injuries. Additionally, farming is one of the few occupations in which family members and bystanders are also at risk. The fact that agricultural machinery uses tremendous power makes operation a potential hazard for both the operator and bystanders. For families and communities involved in a farming accident, the toll is huge. Even though manufacturers try to ensure that machinery is as safe as possible, the nature of the work creates inherent hazards that cannot be completely removed. Knowledge of some general safety procedures and the importance of learning specific safety information about each piece of machinery used could save lives and greatly reduce pain and expense.

Flue-cured tobacco production is mechanized extensively and as a result, many machine hazards are present. Using tobacco harvesters, balers, leaf handling systems, forklifts, and tractors results in specific machinery hazards during operation. Harvest season is a busy time for farm operations, and time means money when it comes to yields, production schedules, and operating costs. Unfortunately this is also a very dangerous season. Accidents can occur as a result of taking shortcuts to perform routine tasks, operator physical or mental condition, or failing to follow safety practices. The typical operating environment can have extreme temperatures, excessive noise and vibration, slippery conditions, etc. that are all accident factors. Accidents are preventable, but all farm employees and family members should learn to recognize machine hazards and take precautions to avoid injury.

Preventing and controlling farm hazards and risks is a management issue. Managing farm safety and your health requires a proactive attitude toward the elimination, prevention, and control of work related hazards. The information provided is to assist you with generating safer work conditions when operating agriculture machinery.

Machinery Safety

There are many different kinds of agricultural machinery, but they all have similar characteristics and similar hazards. Most have cutting edges, gears, chains, belts, rotating shafts and blades, pinch points, high pressure hoses, and other similar hazards. Many contain multiple hazards of the types just listed. Familiarize yourself with specific hazards associated with all machinery used on your farm. The following information is provided to increase your safety awareness and injury prevention.

  • Ensure that the operator’s manual is on hand and all operators are familiar with the contents, especially the safe operating procedures.
  • Ensure that all machinery operators receive training. Document any safety training provided and be sure to keep these records on file.
  • Make sure that equipment is properly maintained and that all safety devices (shielding, guards, etc.) are functioning properly. Never override manufacturer-included safety technologies to save time. Replace or add safety warning labels that are missing or illegible.
  • Always wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) when operating machinery. Refer to the owner’s manual for a list of the machine-specific requirements.
  • Keep the operator station clean and free from debris, trash, etc.
  • Do not get on or off machinery while the engine is running. Turn the engine off and remove the key before dismounting. Some machinery includes safety devices that turn off the engine or disengage engine power when the operator is not positioned in the seat. This should never be removed or bypassed for any purpose.
  • Never attempt to adjust, clean, or unclog any part of a machine while the engine is running.
  • Do not allow passengers on the machine at any time for any reason, unless a designated and approved second operator seat is provided by the manufacturer. The “No seat, no rider” rule is always in effect.
  • Always wear close fitting clothing with no loose ends or strings that could easily be caught in moving parts.
  • Always leave adjustable height components on machinery (front end loaders, combine heads, defoliator units, forklift mast, etc.) in the lowered position when not in use.

Tractor Safety

Tractors are used frequently throughout the year to perform tillage operations, harvesting, planting, spraying and other operations that have contributed greatly to increasing farm productivity. This frequent use requires that tractor operators must be aware of tractor safety concerns. Tractor rollovers account for more than half of all farm fatalities. A tractor can roll over in any direction: rear, front, or either side. Power take-off (PTO) entanglements and run overs are the other accidents that can occur with tractor use. The following recommended safe work practices are provided to help prevent injuries when operating tractors.

  • Ensure that all tractor operators are properly trained. A good place to start is with the operator’s manual. Document the training provided and be sure to keep records on file.
  • Make sure all maintenance requirements are performed as specified by the manufacturer. Perform a visual inspection of the tractor and implement prior to each use.
  • Ensure that all tractors are equipped with a rollover protective structure (ROPS) and a seat belt. Always wear the seat belt with a ROPS. Seat belts ensure that the operator stays within the ROPS zone of protection during a tractor rollover. ROPS are not designed to prevent a rollover.
  • Limit the use of tractors not equipped with a ROPS. Seat belts should not be used on tractors without a ROPS. A seat belt eliminates the operator’s chances of being thrown clear of an overturning tractor if it does not have a ROPS.
  • Where possible, avoid operating tractors near ditches, embankments, and holes.
  • Avoid crossing slopes whenever possible and use appropriate speeds for operating conditions.
  • Pay attention, especially at row ends, on highways, and around trees.
  • Do not allow others to ride. No seat, no rider.
  • Hitch loads only to the drawbar and hitch points recommended by the tractor manufacturer.
  • Always start the tractor from the operator’s seat. Never bypass start a tractor.
  • Always check that all PTO shielding, on the tractor and attached implement, is correctly installed and properly maintained.
  • Never attempt to repair, adjust, remove debris, or step over a PTO while it is operating. Disengage the PTO, turn the tractor engine off, and remove the key before dismounting.
  • Make sure the tractor and implement have a properly mounted slow moving vehicle (SMV) emblem and front and rear lighting that is clean and in working order.