by | Farm & Agriculture, Safety, Vehicles & Equipment |

Farming has never been an easy occupation – long hours, non-cooperative weather, fickle commodity prices and the possibility of severe injury.  Agriculture is among the most dangerous industries with only transportation/warehousing and construction being more dangerous. Agriculture has the highest fatal work injury rate (24.4 per 100,000 full time workers) of all industries1. Among specific occupations, farmers ranked 7th in 2011 for fatal work injuries. Farmers are only surpassed by professional commercial truck drivers 2. With all the hazards to be found on a farm, accidents caused by tractor related incidents are the leading cause of fatalities – over 300 a year. Of those tractor related fatalities, 50% are caused by rollover accidents3.

How can farmers improve the chance of preventing injury and death in tractor overturns?

The easiest way is to have a Roll-Over Protective Structure (ROPS) installed on the tractor. ROPS, used in conjunction with seat belts, will give the operator the best possibility of staying within a protective zone during a roll-over. In 1985, the American Society of Agricultural Engineers adopted a voluntary standard, S318.10, which encouraged tractor manufacturers to install ROPS and seatbelts on all new agricultural tractors for use in the U.S. market. All major tractor manufacturers agreed to adopt this standard, and since 1986, nearly all new agricultural tractors sold in the U.S. have been equipped with ROPS and seatbelts as standard equipment4. So, why are there over 300 deaths a year related to tractors?

Since the largest contributor to tractor deaths is roll-overs, why are “all” tractors not equipped with the ROPS system? There are several reasons:

  • Since 1976 OSHA required that all “employee – operated” tractors be equipped    with ROPS and seat belts. But this does not apply to family members on family farms;
  • The standard has not been enforced in 47 of the 50 states;
  • Many older tractors have not been retrofitted, either due to cost or perceived inconvenience.

How can a farmer minimize the risk of tractor accidents? Here is a list of actions that can have a positive impact on safety:

  • Know how to operate the tractor safely – the experienced farmer likely knows this. However, it is important to focus on new operators. On a large, level yard or field, with ample space to operate and without any equipment attached:
    • Demonstrate to the new operator how to start the tractor;
    • Drive around the yard demonstrating how each of the controls work;
    • Allow the new operator to learn how to run the tractor;
    • Train the new operator in the equipment to be used and how to attach it to the tractor;
    • The new operator should now be allowed to gradually work into more complex tractor operations.
  • Preventive Maintenance – a tractor in good repair is a safer tractor. Before each use:
    • Check tire condition and inflation;
    • Check fuel, oil and hydraulic fluids;
    • Check fuel and hydraulic lines for leaks;
    • Be absolutely sure that protective shields are in place;
    • Check that steps and platforms are clean and free of debris, chains and tools;
    • Make sure the visibility from the cab is clear and mirrors are clean;
    • Check brakes, steering, air cleaner and coolant
    • Check that all lights are working;
    • Check to be sure the “Slow Moving Vehicle (SMV)” emblem is in place and visible;
  • Check what you are wearing:
    • Wear good fitting clothing.
    • Avoid loose, torn, or bulky clothes that could catch on moving parts, pedals or levers.
    • Shoes should be in good repair and with non-slip soles.
    • Long hair should be tied back or fit under a hat
  • Safe Refueling:
    • Refuel the tractor with the engine off.
    • Ground out the tractor to eliminate static electricity. Use a ground wire or drop any mounted equipment to the ground.
    • Refuel outside. Fuel tanks should be at least 40 feet away from buildings. If carrying fuel, be sure to use approved safety cans with UL labels.
    • Have a first aid kit and at least one 5 pound ABC dry chemical extinguisher on board.
  • Keep the Power-Takeoff (PTO) shaft guarded with the shields and guard that came with the tractor. If they are lost or broken replace them. It may save you an arm or a leg!
  • Safety on Public Roads – Use all required and available safety devices and driving skills when operating tractors on public roads. The risk is high! Roll-over protection, safety hitch, SMV emblem, rear-view mirrors, signal lights, hand signals, clearance lights and/or reflectors are all aids to safety on the highway.
    • Make sure all loads are properly secured.
    • Allow traffic to pass. Be considerate of others, and pull over to the shoulder when necessary.
    • Keep your tractor and implements in your lane. If your equipment is wider than the traffic lane, keep it over on the shoulder and be sure to watch out for mailboxes and signs
    • Avoid excessive speed and drive defensively.
    • Consult local or state officials for regulations on moving extra wide equipment on public roads5.
  • Other Basic Safety Practices
    • No extra riders. And just as important, do not ask to be an extra rider. If the tractor has a cab with seating for two – OK and use the seat belts!
    • Stuck in a hole – it is probably best to get help.
    • Hitch equipment only to the drawbar.
    • Keep away from ditches and embankment edges. If a piece of attached equipment goes over, the tractor will likely follow
    • When using a loader – move and turn slowly, keep load low when moving, add rear weights, keep wheels wide and lower bucket to ground when parking or servicing
    • Drive at a safe speed.
    • Watch for rocks, stumps, holes, slopes and hillsides. Keep wheels wide. Be sure you know how to maneuver up and down hills. The majority of overturns happen on slopes and hills.
    • The Human Factor – Knowing what to do and how to do it goes a long way to ensure safe tractor operation. Another vital factor is you, the operator. It is important to be in good physical and emotional condition when you are operating a tractor. If you are ill, tired, angry, emotionally upset or if your mind is on something else, you could make a fatal mistake.

It is also important that you are comfortable enough while operating the tractor so that you can function well. If you are too cold or too hot, the tractor noise level is too high or the seat adjustment is incorrect, you will not operate the tractor as well as you would if you were comfortable. Discomfort is distracting and it contributes to fatigue. Short, frequent breaks will rest you better and faster compared to longer, less frequent breaks. And if you are exhausted, stop. You could save your life by doing so5.

Acadia Insurance Company supports all efforts to make farming a safer occupation. Just as important as keeping your tractors and equipment in good repair is being sure your insurance is providing the protection you need. If you have not had your insurance reviewed recently, why not have it checked? A professional farm insurance agent will be able to advise you if you have the proper insurance protection. Proper insurance is just as important as exercising proper safety measures! The planting season is here throughout the country. You have spent the winter maintaining your equipment, now drive that tractor safely!

Here are some good videos on farm tractor safety;          Farm Tractor Safety: More than Plows and PTOs – Part 1       Farm Tractor Safety: More than Plows and PTOs – Part 6            Farm Tractor Safety: More than Plows and PTOs – Part 7       Farm Tractor Safety: More than Plows and PTOs – Part 8           Farm Tractor Safety: More than Plows and PTOs – Part 9


U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2012.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2012

3 Fact Sheet No. 5.016 – Colorado State University – Farm and Ranch Series | Safety by P.D. Ayers

4 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – NIOSH Science Blog; John Myers, MSF – posted 1/5/09

5 Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service, Bill Field, Extension Safety Specialist,

Acadia is pleased to share this material with its customers.  Please note, however, that nothing in this document should be construed as legal advice or the provision of professional consulting services.  This material is for general informational purposes only, and while reasonable care has been utilized in compiling this information, no warranty or representation is made as to accuracy or completeness.  Distribution of this information does not constitute an assumption by us of your obligations to provide a safe workplace. Maintaining a safe workplace in accordance with all laws is your responsibility. We make no representation or warranty that our activities or recommendations will place you in compliance with law, relieve you of potential liability or ensure your premises or operations are safe. We exercise no control over your premises or operations and have no responsibility or authority to implement loss prevention practices or procedures.

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