Tractors and other self-propelled farm equipment
Tractors are the piece of machinery most commonly involved in farm accidents.
As an employer you need to be aware of the hazards associated with tractors and other self-propelled farm equipment and what your workers need to know to operate them safely.
Throughout this page where the term "tractor" is used, it also refers to other self-propelled farm equipment, such as devices or machinery used on farms that can move by their own force or momentum.
Training tractor operators
As an employer in a farming operation you must make sure workers who are operating tractors are competent to do so. A competent person under section 1 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) is a person who:
- is qualified because of knowledge, training and experience
- is familiar with the OHSA and the regulations, and
- has knowledge of any potential or actual danger to health and safety at the workplace
Under section 25 of the OHSA, as an employer, you must provide information, instruction and supervision to your workers, so they know how to safely operate a tractor. You should make sure that they understand and are able to:
- apply the instructions in the operator's manual before using the tractor for the first time
- recognize hazards and know how to control them
An operator should first practice using a tractor without any equipment attached to it in a large, level area. A competent person should:
- show the operator how to safely start the tractor and use each of the controls
- give instructions from a safe distance while the tractor is operated
After an operator has learned to use the tractor alone in a level area, the next step is to learn to operate it with equipment attached. An operator should gradually learn the more complex jobs of tractor operation.
The following are recommended procedures for the safe operation of tractors and other self-propelled equipment that your workers need to know.
- Before starting a tractor
- Operating a tractor
- Working with attachments
- Safety with large tractors
Before starting a tractor
The operator should conduct a daily circle check before starting the tractor. On a regular basis, before starting the tractor, the operator should do maintenance checks for:
- lubricant and fuel levels
- radiator fluid level. The operator should do this when the tractor is cold. Extreme care should be used if the level must be checked when the radiator is hot
- tire pressure
- hydraulic leaks
- fittings—tighten any that are loose
- lights—ensure all are working and visible
Workers must report any defects they see to the employer or supervisor. A worker operating a tractor should follow instructions printed on safety decals attached to the tractor. Before moving a tractor, the operator should make sure that:
- all shields and guards are in place and operational
- wheel treads are set as wide apart as practical for the job
- there is clear visibility on all sides
- there is nothing in the tractor's intended path
- there are no hazards or obstructions such as overhead wires
- the brakes work properly
- brake pedals are locked together before traveling on a road, where applicable
The operator should not run a tractor indoors for extended periods of time as toxic gases can build up. Exhaust gases contain carbon monoxide, which is odourless, colourless and deadly. If a tractor is to be used indoors, there should be adequate ventilation or venting of exhaust gases directly to the outside.
Use proper techniques for mounting and dismounting equipment to prevent slips and falls. Operators should use the three-point contact method where possible. This involves maintaining contact with the machine with either two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand at all times while mounting or dismounting.
Operating a tractor
An operator should use a tractor for its intended purpose, as specified by the manufacturer and outlined in the operator's manual. If a tractor or any attachments are modified, the employer and the operator should consider how the modifications affect the safe operation of the equipment.
All safety decals attached to a tractor should be visible and easy to read. Replace damaged or missing safety decals with new ones, if available.
Only the operator should ride on a tractor while it is in use. If a tractor has a training seat, use it only for that purpose.
Children and other bystanders should be kept away from tractors while they are operating.
Roll-over protective structures
Roll-over protective structures (ROPS) are structures which limit most equipment roll-overs to 90 degrees and protect the operator if he/she is wearing the seatbelt. Under the Farm Implements Act , all tractors manufactured after January 1, 1992, with a manufacturer's rating higher than 20 horsepower and sold by a dealer must be equipped with a ROPS and a seatbelt.
Where the danger of a roll-over exists or when operating on a public roadway, a tractor should be equipped with a ROPS and a seatbelt should be worn.
Your workers may operate tractors without ROPS in situations where it is not practical to use a tractor with these structures. This includes situations where there is low overhead clearance, such as in orchards, farm buildings, greenhouses and other locations where low-profile tractors are necessary for a particular task. Extra care should be taken when operating a tractor in these situations.
Preventing tractor roll-overs
Several factors can contribute to a tractor roll-over, including:
- uneven ground
- operating on an incline
- excessive speed
- operating with a front-end loader or raised attachments
Tractor wheels should be kept as far apart as possible. A tractor will overturn sideways much more easily if the wheels are close together. When wheels must be moved in for narrow row farming use extra care, especially when traveling at higher speeds on roads.
Following the steps below will help prevent tractor roll-overs. An operator should reduce speed:
- before turning
- when working on slopes
- when using a loader
- on rough, slick or muddy surfaces
Whenever possible, an operator should avoid driving the tractor near ditches, embankments, holes and on steep slopes. A slope of more than 30 degrees can change a tractor's centre of gravity. To ensure greater stability when working on a slope, an operator should drive straight up or down the slope, not diagonally across it.
When moving down a slope, an operator should:
- never coast but shift to the lowest gear
- keep the tractor in gear to prevent freewheeling or excessive braking
- take extra care carrying heavy, high, swaying or unstable loads
When going up a slope, an operator should:
- make sure that the centre of gravity stays in front of the point of contact between the rear wheels of the tractor and the ground
- try to back up if it is necessary to get up the incline
- use weights on the front of the tractor if necessary
An operator should engage the clutch gently, especially when going uphill. "Jackrabbit" (sudden) starts are dangerous as the tractor may flip over. When operating a loader, keep it as close to the ground as possible.
Other precautions when operating a tractor
An operator must disengage the Power Take-Off (PTO) when it is not in use. PTO is a shaft that allows transmission of power from a farm tractor to a piece of equipment attached to it. The PTO shield should be in place whenever equipment is in use.
An operator must never jump from a moving tractor or leave a running tractor unattended. The tractor could start rolling or moving and run over them or others.
Operators must not wear loose clothing while operating a tractor. Loose clothing can catch on moving parts or levers and cause an accident.
If stuck in mud, the operator should try to back out. If this does not work, they should get another tractor to pull them out. The tractor pulling out should be of sufficient size and power to do the job and should have roll-over protection and a seatbelt.
When parking a tractor, an operator should:
- disengage the PTO
- lower equipment to the ground
- turn off the engine before getting off the tractor
- put the transmission into neutral or park
- set the brakes to prevent the tractor from rolling
Under the Highway Traffic Act, a person operating a farm tractor on a public roadway must be at least 16 years old. A tractor operator must follow all traffic rules when on public roads. This includes:
- having proper lights
- using hand signals
- having a 'slow-moving vehicle' sign (SMV)
- observing the right-of-way
When an operator uses a tractor for pulling loads, the point of pull on the tractor should be the point specified by the manufacturer's instructions, and the weight of the load pulled must not exceed that specified by the manufacturer.
An operator should only hitch towed loads to the drawbar and at the manufacturer's recommended height. Safety clips and pins designed for hitching should be used. Add front weights as necessary when using the three-point hitch to maintain stability and prevent steering problems. Hitching loads too high can cause a tractor to flip backwards.
Any chain or cable an operator uses to pull an object should be in good condition and adequate for its intended use. It should be able to sustain the load to be pulled without breaking. When operators use a chain or cable to pull a load, any slack should be taken up slowly and there should be no loose chains dangling.
In farming operations, an attachment is a piece of farm equipment that is pulled behind or mounted on a tractor. Examples include:
A tractor and all attachments used with it must be maintained in good condition and maintenance records should be kept up to date.
An operator should shut off the engine and be sure the motion of any attachments has stopped before performing any adjustments or maintenance. Equipment should not be operated if shields or guards are missing or not operational.
An operator should:
- use counterweights for stability for some attachments
- raise any rear-mounted attachments and drive slowly when making sharp turns
- raise and lower attachments slowly and smoothly
When operators refuel a tractor, the following measures will reduce the risk of a fire or explosion:
- refuel the tractor outside
- store fuel outside of buildings
- ensure the refueling area is free of flammable material
- ground out the tractor by dropping mounted equipment to the ground or by using a ground wire to reduce static electricity. (Static electricity, a spark from the ignition system or a hot exhaust could cause the fuel to ignite.)
- have a dry chemical extinguisher easily accessible
- never refuel the tractor while the engine is running or hot
- do not smoke while refueling
Safety with large tractors
Safety precautions apply to both large and small tractors, but there are some special safety concerns when operating extremely large equipment. An employer has a duty to inform and instruct operators about all hazards.
The tractor's dimensions may cause difficulties in tight places, at corners, gates and on narrow roadways. Overhead clearances, especially around power lines, may also cause a problem. An operator should be aware of the potential dangers. Consider the weight of the unit when operating on small bridges, floors and flatbeds.
The unique steering systems of large four wheel-drive tractors can present handling problems. All-wheel steering can shift a towed device into an unexpected path. Articulated steering changes the tractor's center of gravity so that an overturn can occur unexpectedly. With articulated steering, high-speed road travel requires more operating skill than for conventional tractors.