An unsafe tractor can endanger a farmer, his family and co-workers, and anyone else who shares the road with the vehicle, warns David Smith, Texas Cooperative Extension farm-safety specialist.

U.S. Bureau of Labor estimates show that nearly 800 farm workers die each year on farms and ranches in this nation. “About half of these are transportation-related and involve tractors,” says Mr. Smith. You can help prevent those accidents by making sure the tractor is in good operating condition.

  • Check the steering and brake systems. “Make sure the steering is responsive and predictable at normal speeds,” he says. “If you plan to drive the tractor on highways, make sure it does not ‘walk’ or sway at faster speeds.” Also, check the wheel brakes and parking brakes. “At highway speeds, uneven braking can affect steering and control,” he adds. “The parking brake should hold the tractor in position on inclines and under loads.”
  • Check the electrical system. “The tractor should only be started from the tractor seat using the key switch,” he says. “Many operators have been run over and killed as they attempted to ‘bypass start,’ or start the tractor while standing on the ground.” For added safety, producers should install a starter shield or cover to prevent bypass starting.
  • Make sure hazard, signal and warning lights are working and clean.
  • Check the hydraulic system for leaks and repair immediately. A “tight” hydraulic system is key to preventing front-end loaders and other farm implements from falling on workers, he says.
  • Check for any missing or damaged guards and shields that cover moving parts, especially the master power-take-off shield.
  • Make sure the slow-moving-vehicle emblem is clean and positioned at the back of the tractor. “Slow-moving-vehicle emblems are mandatory when the tractor is driven on highways.”
  • Inspect the integrity of rollover protection structures and seat belts. If the rollover protection has been bent or damaged, have it replaced. “Seat belts should always be worn with a rollover-equipped tractor,” he says.
  • Clean any mud, grease, oil and trash from mounting steps and around the operator’s station to prevent slips and fall.

For more information on how to make tractors safe, visit the Extension Agricultural Safety and Health Web site at http://agsafety.tamu.edu.