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Tractor Safety Training

Title: Introductory Tractor Driving & Safety Course: Designed for Beginning Drivers

Training date/time: Friday, May 19, 9:00 am – 4 pm

Place: NFREC – Suwannee Valley, 8202 CR 417, Live Oak, FL 32060


Reading Material

1  Overview

2  Foundations of Tractor Safety

2.1  A Safer Operator

2.1.1  More Tractor Operator Tips

2.1.2  Operator's Responsibilities

2.1.3  Important Checks

2.1.4  Shortcuts Are Short-sighted! or, Invest Seconds, Save Lives!

2.2  A Safer Tractor

2.2.1  Rollover Protective Structures (ROPS)

2.2.2  Frequently Asked Questions about Rollover Protective Structures (ROPS)

2.2.3  More Tractor Safety Tips

2.2.4  Bypass Starting Dangers

2.2.5  Safety Switch Check

2.3  A Safer Environment

3  Safer Tractor Operations

3.1  Dangers of Extra Riders

3.1.1  Why Take the Risk?

3.1.2  Causes of Runovers

3.1.3  The "No Riders" Rule

3.1.4  Problems on Other Equipment

3.2  Road Safety for Tractors and Farm Machinery

3.2.1  Common Causes of Collisions

3.2.2  Escort Vehicles

3.2.3  Lighting and Marking – Summary of ASAE Standard

3.3  Loading and Towing

3.3.1  Towing Equipment

3.3.2  Front-End Loaders

3.3.3  Loading and Unloading Tractors

4  Miscellaneous Topics

4.1  Other Tips for Maneuvering

4.2  Hazards of Filling Gas Cans

4.3  Steep Slopes

4.4  What to Do When the Tractor Gets Stuck

4.5  Used Equipment

4.6  Hand Signals

4.7  Handling Large Hay Bales

5  Tractor Operator Checklist

6  Resources

6.1  Web Sites

6.2  Safety Standards

6.3  Safety Decals

Appendix. Tractor Operator Checklist


1  Overview

Deaths involving tractors contribute to the agricultural sector – including agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting – having one of the highest on-the-job annual death rates. Bureau of Labor Statistics data reports that the national fatality rate for agriculture, forestry, and fishing had risen to 23.1 per 100,000 full-time equivalents (FTE) – over six times the job-related fatality rate for all industries (BLS, 2021). Working with tractors accounted for 30% of the fatalities in Florida (Gorucu, 2021).

Agriculture fatality rates and fatalities related to tractors have remained relatively consistent over more than 30 years. Safer tractor operations and the use of protective equipment could prevent many deaths and injuries involving tractors. Owners, managers, and tractor operators all play a major role in making tractor operations safer. Owners have responsibilities for providing a safer environment and safer equipment. Managers coordinate maintenance designed to ensure the safety of equipment, as well as safety policies and programs. The final responsibility for making the operation of tractors safer lies with the tractor operators themselves.

It is often only when an incident occurs that people become focused on what might have prevented injury or loss of life. The following pages give guidance to agricultural employers about how everyone in their operation can work together to make using tractors safer.


2  Foundations of Tractor Safety

The three major elements which must be considered when developing programs to make tractor operations safer are:

  • the tractor operator,
  • the tractor, and
  • the environment.

We have control over some aspects of these elements; for example, setting up fields with adequate turning room at the ends of rows is a safety factor entirely within human control. So is the speed at which the tractor is operated and whether a rollover protective structure (ROPS) and seat belt are used. However, there are elements over which we have no control. In those cases, operations must be modified to assure that the job is completed safely.

Deaths and injuries result from hazards. A particular driver may be safety-conscious and driving a tractor equipped with safety features, yet this operator might drive into a hazardous environment with a false sense of security; or because an environment is considered “safe,” an owner or driver might tolerate an unsafe tractor. Either of these situations is an incident waiting to happen. Preventing incidents means recognizing hazards and taking appropriate precautions.

2.1  A Safer Operator

Management's responsibility does not end with a safer environment or a safer tractor. There are still responsibilities in selecting, training, motivating, and supervising tractor operators.

Consider the following in selecting tractor operators:

  • Seek operators who have already demonstrated dependability with you or other employers.
  • Seek drivers with positive dispositions and positive attitudes toward safety, both of which have been found to correlate with reduced workplace incidents.

Be aware that the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and related regulations (29 USC 201 and 29 CFR 570.70-72, respectively) require that individuals operating a tractor with more than 20 PTO horsepower must be at least 16 years old. There are exceptions for 14- and 15-year-olds who, for example, are engaged in an approved agricultural education program or who have completed training and received a certificate in formal program like the 4-H Federal Extension Service Training Program or a U.S. Office of Education Vocational Agriculture Training Program.

Youths of any age can be employed by their parents to work on a farm they own or operate. However, remember the exemption does not eliminate the hazard.

Management has responsibility for training tractor operators. Do not take an operator’s knowledge of safety practices for granted. All employees who operate agricultural tractors should be informed of safer operating practices when first assigned to operate a tractor and at least annually thereafter. Brief ongoing "tailgate sessions" are recommended on a weekly or monthly basis to maintain safety awareness, express management’s commitment to safety and the well-being of its employees, and build a culture of safety. The following rules apply to all tractor operators employed in agribusinesses under the jurisdiction of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (the Occupational Health and Safety Act of 1970, or OSHA). Although these rules do not govern everyone, they should be applied to all tractor drivers.

  • If the tractor has a ROPS, the operator should securely fasten the seat belt. Do not use seat belts on tractors that do not have ROPS.
  • Where possible, avoid operating the tractor near ditches, embankments, and holes.
  • Reduce speed when turning and crossing slopes and on rough, slick, or muddy surfaces.
  • Stay off slopes that are too steep for safe operation.
  • Watch carefully for obstacles and other hazards in the tractor's path, especially at the end of rows, on roads, around trees, and in other blind corners.
  • The only person on a tractor should be the operator, unless the operation requires a rider, as in the case of transplanters and harvesters, or for instruction, and only if there is a built-in instructional seat available. For more information, see the "Dangers of Extra Riders" section of this publication.
  • Operate the tractor smoothly, avoiding jerky turns, starts, or stops.
  • Hitch only to the drawbar and hitch points that the manufacturer recommends.
  • When the tractor is stopped, set the brakes securely and use park lock, if the tractor is equipped with it.
  • Lower hydraulic equipment. If hydraulic lines lose pressure, raised equipment lowers suddenly, crushing anything – or anyone – underneath.
  • Only authorized personnel should be permitted to operate a tractor.
  • The tractor operator has the responsibility of being aware of other workers and machines and of not endangering them.
  • Common hand signals should be used to communicate with others in the area.

2.1.1  More Tractor Operator Tips

  • Never dismount from a tractor when the engine is running unless the operation requires it.
  • Properly mount and dismount from the tractor; slips and falls cause many injuries.
  • Do not consume alcohol or drugs, including medications that may impair judgement, during work hours or for four hours before starting work.
  • Use hearing protection.
  • Headaches can be a sign of carbon monoxide hazards. Check to see if the exhaust is in a location that exposes the operator to exhaust fumes. There have been instances of carbon monoxide exposure using an open-station tractor in the field.

Tractor operators must have a clear understanding of all instructions and rules. They need to recognize that repeated violations of safety practices may result in their reassignment to a position that does not involve driving a tractor.

2.1.2  Operator's Responsibilities

Operators are responsible for daily pre-operational checks of their tractors – even if a shop mechanic has responsibility for servicing it. This pre-operational check needs to include at least the following activities:

  • Check oil, fuel, and other fluid levels.
  • Check for any oil, fuel, or fluid leaks.
  • Check tire condition and inflation levels.
  • Make sure that platforms and steps are clean and free of debris and tools.
  • Check to see that lights, brakes, and the steering mechanism are working properly.
  • Make sure that all gauges are giving proper readings and that the engine transmission and hydraulic system are not making any unusual sounds.

A tractor might require additional pre-operation checks. The operator should know what they are and should perform them daily or more frequently. The operator can determine which checks are needed by reviewing the maintenance manual for the tractor.

A tractor is not the only "machine" that needs a pre-operation check. The operator does too.

  • Is the operator fit to drive?
  • Is the operator too sick, tired or angry to drive?
  • Does the operator have medications or other substances in their body that might adversely affect judgement, attention, or reaction time?

If the answer is yes to any of these questions, the operator should not drive.

2.1.3  Important Checks

Operators should conduct a pre-operational check of their clothing.

  • Clothing should be comfortable and close fitting, with no loose ends or strings that could easily be caught in moving parts.
  • Shoes should have protective steel-tipped toes and skid-resistant soles.
  • The condition of any other personal protective equipment the operator is wearing should be checked. It may include a respirator, eye and ear protection, protective clothing, head gear, gloves and boots.
  • Keep long hair contained in a cap. Long hair can easily be caught in moving parts, resulting in scalping injuries.

Avoid smoking when fueling the tractor, working around dry materials or when working with pesticides.

The operator should make periodic safety checks throughout the day. Stay alert and remain as comfortable as possible.

  • Discomfort can be distracting and tiring.
  • Take short breaks frequently.
  • Stretch and move around.
  • Drink small amounts of non-alcoholic beverages frequently.
  • Eat moderately.
  • Exhaustion means 'Stop working.'
  • The incident you prevent might well save your life and the lives of others.

2.1.4  Shortcuts Are Short-sighted! or, Invest Seconds, Save Lives!

Stepping over a power takeoff instead of walking around the tractor might seem like a time-saving shortcut, but it exposes you to a much greater risk of injury or death.

Often, there's a "recommended safe way" of doing a task and then there's another way that seems quicker but is more hazardous. Many people use the more dangerous shortcut to save time. However, timed studies prove that the time invested in doing a task safely is quite insignificant, especially when compared to the costs of injuries or possible death that could result from the extra hazards involved in the shortcut.

Here are some examples of the small amount of time it takes to be safe. To put these times in perspective, the total time invested for 100 repetitions of a task was calculated. Note that 100 repetitions may occur over an entire year/season. For example, stepping over the PTO may take 2 seconds less time than walking around it. So, if this was done 100 times in a season, you would save only 3.33 minutes. However, every one of those 100 times, you put yourself at risk for injury or death. See Tables 1 for examples of shortcuts that save little time but expose a worker to significant risk.

Table 1. Isn't Your Safety Worth a Few Extra Seconds?


Time Invested

100 Repetitions

Walking down steps instead of jumping off tractor

7 seconds

12 minutes

Walking around the PTO instead of stepping over it

2 seconds

3 1/3 minutes

Engaging cylinder locks on combine when working near or under header

30 seconds

50 minutes

Getting off mower to pick up something instead of leaning over to pick it up as you drive by

20 seconds

33 minutes

Remember: The time you invest in performing a task safely is minimal when you compare it to the financial and emotional costs associated with death, injury and permanent disability.

2.2  A Safer Tractor

Modern tractors are much safer than tractors of 20 or 30 years ago. Rollover protective structures (ROPS) and seat belts now prevent many deaths and injuries from tractor overturns. Improved hitch designs and weight distribution have made tractors more stable. Improved shielding of power takeoff shafts, improved hydraulic designs, improved brakes, wider wheel bases, better visibility, and other features such as running lights and adjustable seats have also contributed to safer tractors.

Despite modern safety improvements, there are still dangers that come with driving a tractor. These dangers can be reduced if the tractor operator understands the tractor and maintains and operates it properly.

2.2.1  Rollover Protective Structures (ROPS)

Side Overturns – Nearly one half of tractor-related deaths are due to tractor overturns. The side overturn is the most frequent type of overturn. Studies indicate 75–85 percent of overturns are to the side. A tractor has a high center of gravity, thus, sharp turns and/or high loads can cause it to overturn quite easily – and at relatively low speed. Centrifugal force can cause a tractor to overturn if the direction of travel is changed. For example, when a tractor's right front wheel veers into the road ditch, the natural reaction of the operator is to steer it back onto the roadway; however, the forces will pull the tractor over on its side.

Rear Overturns – The second type of overturn is to the rear. These overturns may be less frequent, but without a ROPS, they are the deadliest. It is estimated that, without a ROPS, 85 percent of rear overturns result in the operator's death. Rear overturns occur when the tractor cannot move forward and the rear axle torque causes the tractor to pivot around the rear axle. The tractor can reach the point of no return in as little as 0.75 seconds. The entire event can happen in as little as 1.5 seconds. There is no time for the operator to react. Rear overturns are often due to pulling a load uphill, being stuck in the mud, or attempting to pull a load that has been hitched above the drawbar.

When possible, operate a tractor equipped with a rollover protective structure (ROPS). Most tractors should be equipped with a ROPS and seat belt, which includes all tractors manufactured since 1976. However, certain tractors are exempt, including:

  • Tractors built before October 1976;
  • Tractors with less than 20 horsepower;
  • Tractors on which equipment is mounted that would be incompatible with ROPS; and
  • Low-profile tractors used in groves, farm buildings, or greenhouses where the vertical clearance would interfere with normal operations. However, it is recommended to use tractors with ROPS in these situations because most manufacturers now offer ROPS that can fold down when necessary for clearance.

However, exemptions are not to be used as an excuse for not using safety features. If the use of the tractor permits ROPS and seat belts, they need to be provided. An exemption does not eliminate hazards.

Always wear a seat belt on a tractor with a ROPS. If an overturn occurs, the seat belt helps keep the driver within the safety zone that the ROPS creates. Seat belts are not to be used on tractors without a ROPS because, in that case, an operator constrained in the seat would be crushed. Without a seat belt, the driver may be thrown around in the cab, which can result in severe injuries or unconsciousness. Either of these could make it impossible for the driver to escape the cab, which could be fatal, especially if the tractor has overturned into a canal.

2.2.2  Frequently Asked Questions about Rollover Protective Structures (ROPS)

How common are tractor overturn injuries?

Tractor overturns are the leading cause of work-related deaths in agriculture.

Can overturn injuries be prevented?

The use of a ROPS and seat belt is 99 percent effective in preventing deaths and injuries from overturn.

Why is a seat belt needed with the ROPS?

A ROPS provides a zone of protection for the tractor operator, and during an overturn, a fastened seat belt keeps the operator in that zone. If you must use a tractor without a ROPS, do not use a seat belt. Without a ROPS, there is no zone of protection, and wearing a seatbelt in this situation eliminates any chance of operator survival.

How do I know if a ROPS is available for my tractor(s)?

Your local tractor dealer can advise you about ordering a ROPS and seat belt for your tractor. Ask them also about professional installation. It will be a few dollars more, but correct installation can make all the difference at the critical moment when a ROPS is needed to save your life.

I cannot afford ROPS for all my tractors, but I want to reduce my risk of being hurt in an overturn. What can I do?

Safety can be improved by using a tractor equipped with a ROPS for riskier operations. The value of a ROPS is such that trading in an older tractor for a model equipped with a ROPS might be worth considering.

If ROPS are so great, can I make my own?

Homemade ROPS are unlikely to provide protection in the event of an overturn. Consider the weight of a tractor. The dynamic forces that act upon a ROPS during a tractor overturn make it crucial that a ROPS be properly designed, manufactured, and installed. The knowledge to do this requires professional engineering. The ROPS and tractor must work together as a system to stay together as a unit in the event of an overturn.

The likelihood of a homemade ROPS providing protection is very small. Only ROPS that have been tested to meet specific standards are acceptable. Tractors with ROPS that have not been approved can split during an overturn. Anything less than an approved ROPS provides a false sense of security. Altering a ROPS by welding something onto it or by drilling holes in it can make it less effective.

Will a ROPS limit the way I can use my tractor?

Few owners remove a ROPS because of interference. ROPS that fold down are available for many tractors.

Some of my tractors have cabs. Is the ROPS a part of the cab frame?

Many older tractors may have what is known as a weather cab, meaning that a ROPS is not part of the frame. In an overturn, these cabs can be more deadly because they provide no chance for escape, thus increasing the chances of being crushed.

How do I know if the cab on my tractor has a ROPS as part of its structure?

Look for a label indicating it has an OSHA-approved ROPS; most tractors manufactured after 1976 should have these labels. However, labels are not located in a uniform place, and the cab may cover them up. Look for a seat belt. Manufacturers only install seat belts on ROPS-equipped tractors. Consult the dealer.

2.2.3  More Tractor Safety Tips

  • When a tractor has adjustable wheel widths, operate it with the widest wheel adjustment that is practical for the task at hand.
  • Add weights to the tractor to make it more stable.
  • Check that shields for the power takeoff and other moving parts are in place and are in good condition.
  • Check the brakes individually, and then check the brakes locked together with the tractor operating at a transport speed to ensure it will stop in a straight line.
  • Inspect the condition and fit of hydraulic lines. Sudden failure of hydraulics could result in loss of control of the tractor or equipment. Also, serious injury could result from being sprayed with hot, high-pressure hydraulic fluid. Check for holes by holding a piece of cardboard above the hoses. Keep hands clear of hydraulic leaks; using the hand can result in serious burns or in hydraulic fluid being injected directly into the hand.
  • Be sure that running lights are properly mounted, clean, and visible. Two headlights and two taillights, both widely spaced, should be visible to other traffic. See IFAS publication Lighting and Marking of Agricultural Equipment on Highways: Summary of ASAE Standard S279.18.
  • Mount the slow-moving vehicle (SMV) emblem in the center of the rear of all tractors and machinery that will be used on public roads. The emblem indicates that the vehicle travels at less than 25 miles per hour. The bottom edges of the emblem should be no higher than six feet off the ground.
  • Always clean the SMV emblem before entering a public road. Dust and dirt greatly decrease its reflective ability.
  • Replace the SMV emblem if it begins to fade.
  • Mount a fire extinguisher with an ABC rating on all tractors.
  • Mount a dust-proof and waterproof first-aid kit on all tractors.
  • If tractors are used in dusty conditions or for applying pesticides, equip them with cabs that provide filtered air. Check what the filter is designed to do. The operator must have personal protective equipment in the cab in case he/she must leave the tractor.
  • Perform pre-operational checks daily, following the guidelines within the operator's manual.
  • Avoid bypass starting.

2.2.4  Bypass Starting Dangers

Shortcuts are common in agriculture, but they are dangerous. Bypass starting is a very dangerous shortcut. The term "bypass starting" points to its danger. It bypasses all the safety-start and neutral-start switches in the tractor's electrical and hydraulic systems. The problem comes when someone tries to bypass-start a tractor or other piece of equipment that is in gear. The person can then get pulled down by the drive wheel and be crushed. The runaway tractor can also injure or kill others in the area.

Often operators or mechanics bypass-start an engine because of a maintenance problem with the tractor's neutral-start switch. It is a good idea to immediately repair mechanical problems that might make bypass starting tempting. Remember, every death or injury due to bypass starting could have been avoided.

2.2.5  Safety Switch Check

Periodically check switches to make sure they are in working condition. This helps avoid the temptation of trying to bypass-start an engine. Following the steps below only takes a few seconds.

  • Make sure that no one is standing near the tractor and no obstructions are around it.
  • Depress the clutch and brake pedals. Attempt to start the tractor with the gears engaged and the PTO in neutral. The starter should not engage.
  • Depress the clutch and brake pedal. Attempt to start the tractor with the gears in neutral and the PTO engaged. Again, the starter should not engage.
  • On tractors equipped with clutch-mounted start switches, depress the brake pedal but not the clutch pedal. Place the transmission and PTO in neutral, the starter should not engage.
  • If either switch is malfunctioning, replace it before further use. See the dealer for parts or service.
  • Talk to the dealer about getting decals to apply to farm machinery that warns about the dangers of bypass starting. Such decals act as a frequent reminder to operators.

2.3  A Safer Environment

Tractor overturns in canals, ditches, and washouts are common. The steep slopes and loose soils in these environments are serious hazards. Other hazards are found on public roads, blind corners, narrow bridges, culverts, sharp turns, steep terrain, and slippery surfaces.

Inspect the environment in which tractors will be used. Identify the hazards and take action to eliminate them. Implement the following suggestions to reduce the environmental hazards:

  • Increase the turning area at the ends of rows. Give the tractor operator room for safe turns without driving too close to ditches and canals.
  • Move field roads farther from canals and ditches. Equipment needs to be kept behind the shear line of the soil and embankment. The minimum distance recommended for operating machinery near embankments is a 1:1 ratio to the depth of the embankment. In other words, the tractor should be no closer to the edge than the depth of the embankment. Following this recommendation prevents bank collapse that can cause tractors to overturn, crushing operators or drowning them in canals. This distance increases with adverse soil conditions such as sandy or wet soil.
  • Control vegetation that can hide hazards. Clearly mark the location of canals, ditches, and other hazards.
  • Maintain field roads.
  • Widen narrow roads and bridges (where practical).
  • Eliminate sharp, blind corners or curves, and rough or slippery surfaces.
  • If travel on public roads is absolutely necessary, travel when vehicle traffic is light and visibility is good.
  • Use proper marking and lighting on all tractors and attached equipment.
  • Prune hedges or trees to improve visibility and reduce the danger of incidents caused by tree limbs hitting the operator.
  • Remove tree stumps and other field obstacles.
  • Conduct walk-through inspections for washouts before beginning tractor operations. Clearly mark or fill washouts.
  • Inspect the farmstead and machinery storage and service area.
  • Correct dangerous traffic patterns around hazards.
  • Be aware of the location of overhead power lines, especially when towing equipment that may have high points, such as boom sprayers.

3  Safer Tractor Operations

3.1  Dangers of Extra Riders

It was going to be a record harvest. The owner of the operation could see light at the end of the tunnel – with money to pay off loans, update equipment, and maybe a little left over for a family vacation. The farm manager sent the workers out to the field. It was a beautiful morning, and the workers were laughing and joking. They hopped up onto the tractors to catch a lift to the field. As the merriment continued, one of the tractors drove into a rough part of the field. Before anyone knew what had happened, one of the workers had lost his grip on the tractor he was riding, and the tractor ran over him. He drowned in about fifteen minutes as his punctured lung filled with blood. There was no harvest that day, just anxious workers and a bereaved family. The following days were taken up with the funeral, the OSHA investigation, the insurance company, and a pending lawsuit by the victim's family.

This story illustrates the danger that extra riders face. It is a compilation of details from many incidents of this type that have occurred all too often in Florida and elsewhere in recent years. In most incidents involving extra riders, victims fall off or are thrown from the tractor during a rough ride or when a tractor overturns. In these situations, extra riders can be run over by either the tractor or by an implement being towed, or both. In an overturn, the tractor often crushes the extra rider. These incidents are double tragedies because they can be prevented so easily. The following information discusses the serious risks that extra riders face.

3.1.1  Why Take the Risk?

Tractors are not passenger vehicles. Except for those built with instructional seats, they are designed for one person to operate. Passengers on tractors can interfere with safe operation of a tractor by distracting the operator, blocking access to controls, or obstructing the operator's vision. Also, tractors (except those with instructional seats) are designed to provide protection for only one person, the operator.

All tractors manufactured since 1976 have a special rollover protective structure – a ROPS – that provides a safe environment for the operator if the tractor overturns. The use of the seat belts on tractors with ROPS will protect the operator from serious injuries. Extra riders have no such protection. There is no safe environment for extra riders on tractors.

Older model tractors without ROPS offer no overturn protection for operators or extra riders. Many people have the mistaken idea that enclosed cabs protect extra riders. This notion only gives tractor operators a false sense of security. Many tractor runover deaths happen when a person, often a child, falls out of an enclosed cab. An enclosed cab can reduce the chance that a rider will be bumped off a tractor, but history shows that it does not eliminate the risk. The small measure of protection from an enclosed cab is no guarantee of safety for extra riders. Door latches may not be fully latched; latches can be bumped; and children can become restless and tamper with latches and controls. Note: Tractor models with instructional seats are limited to cab tractors.

3.1.2  Causes of Runovers

There are many reasons why extra riders are thrown from the tractor, frequently resulting in death. These include:

  • Sudden stops
  • Driving over holes, stumps, and debris, or
  • A sharp turn causes the extra rider to lose his or her footing or to be tossed off the tractor. The tractor does not have to overturn for an extra rider to be thrown from the vehicle.

Operators may think they can respond quickly and stop the tractor if something occurs, especially if the tractor is moving very slowly or if only simple tasks are being performed; however, this is rarely the case. The most common comment from people involved in tractor runovers is how quickly the incident occurred. Table 2 shows why this is true: by the time a person reacts and brings the tractor to a stop, it has already moved many feet. Runovers can also occur when the tractor is involved in an incident. One common scene occurs when a rider is thrown after the tractor hits a building, bridge, or another vehicle. If the tractor overturns, the operator and the rider are both in danger.

Table 2. A tractor cannot stop before running over a thrown rider, no matter how slowly it is going.

Tractor speed

(miles per hour)

Stopping distance


How far tractor travels until the average person reacts (feet)

















3.1.3  The "No Riders" Rule

The only way to prevent extra rider injuries or deaths is to prohibit riders on tractors except for those directly involved in training on a tractor equipped with an instructional seat. Consider making a permanent policy for not allowing riders on tractors. Make sure all tractor operators observe the "NO RIDERS" rule. Discuss the importance of this rule with managers and employees. It is also helpful to post "NO RIDERS" decals on all tractors to remind others about the policy. "NO RIDERS" decals are widely available. Many implement dealerships also carry these decals.

Image of

Figure 1. “No Riders” decal

The most effective way to observe the NO RIDERS" rule is to eliminate the need for extra riders on tractors. Use other vehicles, such as trucks or motor vehicles, when transporting workers to fields or distant work sites.

3.1.4  Problems on Other Equipment

Other farm equipment may be unsafe for extra riders, too. Most all-terrain vehicles, skid steer loaders, and riding lawnmowers are designed for one person.

Some combines and other equipment have extra seats. Seats for extra riders should be added only by the manufacturer because many factors are considered in designing them for safety. A makeshift seat added to farm equipment cannot ensure safety.

Enforcing a "NO RIDERS" rule may be the single most important action in protecting people on farms or ranches. The rule may challenge years of tradition, but it provides a safer way to pass on the agricultural heritage.

3.2  Road Safety for Tractors and Farm Machinery

Each year, incidents involving tractors and other farm machinery occur on public roads, causing deaths, injuries, and costly equipment damage. Collisions with other vehicles make up nearly half of these incidents. Running off the road, overturning, striking a fixed object or the operator falling off the equipment make up the remainder. About one-third of tractor-related deaths occur on public roads, according to the National Safety Council. Many people assume that these collisions happen during bad weather or hazardous conditions. Studies have repeatedly shown that nearly 80 percent of tractor-motor vehicle collisions occur on dry, straight roads in daylight.

Here are some practical tips that can help. Although most of these points may seem obvious, they are nonetheless important to review.

  • Keep travel on public roads to a minimum.
  • Travel on public roads when traffic is at a minimum and visibility is good.
  • Avoid moving tractors and other farm equipment on public roads between sunset and sunrise when visibility is 500 feet or less or when rain makes roads hazardous.
  • Consider using trailers to transport tractors and equipment to distant fields and other locations.
  • Be thoroughly familiar with how to operate the tractor and any equipment being towed.
  • Obey all traffic laws, including speed limits, traffic signals, and signs.
  • Have slow-moving vehicle emblems (required for vehicles traveling 25 mph or less) and reflectors in place on all tractors and implements and make sure that they are clean and in good condition. New technology has improved the visibility of the slow-moving vehicle emblem. The emblem is made of two materials: a fluorescent material for daytime visibility and a reflective outline for nighttime. In the past, slow-moving vehicle emblems tended to fade excessively. Emblems made with the new material are more expensive than emblems without it, but their longevity offsets the extra cost. Reflective tape is also useful to increase the visibility of your tractor and equipment. Experts recommend applying it to the front, back, and sides of equipment. (See "Lighting and Marking – Summary of ASAE Standard S279.10" below for more details.)
  • Make sure that brake pedals are locked together and that brakes are adjusted for equal pedal movement. This helps ensure that the tractor will stop in a straight line.
  • Because tractor brakes have limited holding power, use low gears whenever taking heavy loads up or down hills.
  • Properly light tractors and equipment. Lighting should include turn signals, headlights and taillights.
  • Check to see if all lights are working, and use them if there is any question about visibility.
  • Keep flashing amber lights on when operating farm equipment on public roads.
  • Turn off any work lights that face the rear. Make sure the load does not obscure lights and warning devices. If night driving is necessary, clean headlights and taillights.

3.2.1  Common Causes of Collisions

Nearly half of all collisions between motorists and farm implements involve one of two scenarios: the left-turn collision or the rear-end collision. The number of incidents involving each scenario is about equal.

Left-Turn Collision

The scenario: The left-turn collision occurs when the tractor is about to make a left turn at the same time that a motorist tries to pass.

Why it happens: Like tractor-trailer drivers, tractors sometimes need to make wide left turns. They may swing to the right before making a left turn because they need extra room to line up with a farm gate or driveway. This maneuver can confuse motorists, especially if they think that the tractor operator is moving over to let them pass. Tractor operators, especially when towing equipment, have limited visibility and may not see the motor vehicle.

How to avoid: Tractor operators can reduce the potential for the left-turn collision by installing extension mirrors on the tractor to improve visibility. A sticker that is often seen on semi-tractor-trailers is a good reminder to motorists: "If you can't see my mirrors, I can't see you." This sticker can be placed on farm equipment to provide motorists with more information.

Rear-End Collision

The scenario: The rear-end collision happens because a motorist does not see the farm machinery in the farm machinery in time.

Why it happens: It is easy to misjudge speed when approaching a slow-moving vehicle. In most cases, there are only a few seconds to react and slow down. For example, if the motorist is driving 55 miles per hour and comes upon a tractor that is moving 15 miles per hour, it only takes five seconds to close a gap the length of a football field. Here’s another way of looking at it: if the driver of a motor vehicle that is traveling at 50 miles per hour spots a tractor 400 feet ahead on the road, and the tractor is moving at 20 miles per hour, the motorist has less than 10 seconds to avoid a rear-end collision. In those ten seconds, the motorist must recognize that a dangerous situation exists, determine the speed at which the tractor is moving, decide what action to take, and apply the brakes hard enough and long enough to avoid a collision.

How to avoid: Use marking and lighting (as described in the "Lighting and Marking" section of this publication) to provide motorists with the information they need to recognize the hazard.

Sideswipe Collision

The scenario: When a motor vehicle meets or attempts to pass a farm vehicle, it is sideswiped by the tractor or towed equipment.

Why it happens: Some farm operators haul equipment that is extra wide or especially long, but some motorists do not account for the width or length of the equipment or the sway of the tractor and implement. Also, equipment takes up more available roadway when approaching bridges, mailboxes, or other shoulder obstructions.

How to avoid: For oncoming and passing traffic to better assess the width of farm equipment, reflective tape and materials should be used to mark the extreme front and rear points of the machine.

Head-On Collision with Other Motor Vehicle

The scenario: While a motor vehicle is passing a farm vehicle, it is confronted by another motor vehicle approaching head-on. There is no time to get off the road and a head-on collision occurs.

Why it happens: As in the Sideswipe, a driver may fail to appreciate the length of the farm equipment to be passed and be forced to spend a longer time in the passing lane. Add to this that the driver's view when preparing to pass may be blocked by the farm equipment.

Wide Equipment Head-On Collision with Vehicles

The scenario: An on-coming motorist collides head-on with the towed implement that is wider than the tractor.

Why it happens: Wide equipment poses a special hazard, especially at night, because oncoming traffic does not realize that the tractor is pulling equipment that extends across the centerline and into the opposite lane of traffic until it is too late to react.

How to avoid: If at all possible, keep road travel of wide equipment to a minimum, especially at night. Equipment that is well-marked and well-lit will provide motorists with better information to help them react in time. Reflective materials should be used to mark the extreme front points of the machine.

3.2.2  Escort Vehicles

At times, tractors or the equipment they are pulling cross into the oncoming traffic lane, especially on narrow rural roads. In these situations, consider using an escort vehicle equipped with flashing yellow lights. Remember that equipment can obscure rear tractor lights.

Even if an escort vehicle is not required by law, it is good practice. For large equipment, the local police, sheriff, or highway patrol may provide this service. Escort vehicles are required by state laws under certain conditions. Table 3 summarizes these conditions for Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi. If you have any question about an oversize vehicle, contact your Department of Transportation permits division. For Florida, additional requirements for the kind of vehicle that may be used as an escort, as well as for its marking and lighting are specified in the Florida Administrative Code (F.A.C.) Section 14-26.0012. Contact your state department of transportation for complete details about the kind of vehicle that is acceptable for escort use, as well as the proper marking and lighting of escort vehicles.



Table 3. Size Limits beyond Which Escort Vehicles Are Required








12 ft

75 ft

16 ft

Rear: 5 ft

Front: 10 ft

Blade or bucket extends beyond the side of the vehicle


12 ft

95 ft

14.5 ft

none stated

none stated


12 ft

99 ft


Rear:15 ft

none stated

* Information obtained from Department of Transportation Permits Division in each of the states.


3.2.3  Lighting and Marking – Summary of ASABE Standard

Remember that the reason for marking and lighting is to provide motorists with better information. Lighting and marking should help motorists become aware of the presence, speed, and size of tractors and towed equipment. Placement of marking and lighting is important. Marking and lights that are obscured or not at the motorist's eye level do not provide "quick reflex" information for the motorist.

An excellent example of this principle was the placement of brake lights in the rear windows of cars. A study of the effectiveness of this measure was conducted among a test group of New York City cab drivers. Placement of the light at the motorist's eye level helped motorists to see brake lights several cars ahead and reduced the number of rear-end collisions by 50%. For the collisions that did occur, damages were reduced by one-third. This happened, not by reforming or changing drivers, but simply by providing them with better information.

What are ASABE Standards? ASABE (American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers) is the professional society for those interested in engineering knowledge and technology for food and agriculture and for related industries and resources. Standards are based on experience and research, and they are developed by committees that include qualified people from producer, consumer, and general interest groups.

This lighting and marking standard applies to all tractors, self-propelled machinery, and towed machinery used for “agricultural” operations which might be driven or towed on any road that is also accessible to the public (this includes tractors, machinery for agriculture and forestry, and powered lawn and garden equipment; for more details, see standard ASAE S390.1). Self-propelled machines and towed machines are considered separately in the standard. The following link is only a summary of ASAE Standard 279.10, "Lighting and Marking of Agricultural Equipment on Highways." Consult the standard for exact details about the specific types of lights and their placement.

Link to the

3.3  Loading and Towing

3.3.1  Towing Equipment

  • Make sure that the tractor is properly counter weighted and that all attachments are secure and properly mounted.
  • Avoid operating attachments during road travel, and keep the power-takeoff lever in neutral.
  • Make sure that the tractor is large enough to handle its load, and hitch the load only to the tractor's drawbar hitch points. The drawbar is designed for pulling heavy loads without the risk of a backward overturn. If the load is hitched any higher, the tractor can overturn quickly by rotating around the rear axle.
  • When towing equipment without brakes, keep speed under 20 miles per hour.
  • Towed equipment should have brakes if, when fully loaded, it weighs more than one and a half times the weight of the towing unit. Stopping distances increase with speed and as the weight of towed loads increases, as well as on hills and slopes.
  • When towing equipment with brakes, stay below 25 miles per hour.
  • Equipment that weighs more than 4.5 times the weight of the towing unit should not be towed.

3.3.2  Front-End Loaders

Front-end loaders can make tractors unstable and subject to side overturns.

  • When using a tractor with a front-end loader, use the wide wheel settings and add rear weights as needed.
  • Travel with the bucket in a low position and at low speeds, especially when turning or traveling on rough and slippery terrain.
  • Avoid fast starts and stops.

3.3.3   Loading and Unloading Tractors

When loading a tractor onto a trailer or truck, always load it on level, stable ground. Make sure that the truck or trailer cannot move by setting the brakes or blocking the wheels or both. Whenever possible, slowly back the tractor onto the truck or trailer. Check to see if anyone is behind the tractor or near the trailer during loading.

  • Make sure ramps are clear of mud, grease, or debris. Make sure they are secure.
  • Lock the brakes on the tractor and secure it to the trailer with chains and load binders.
  • Fasten chains and lock and wire load binders so that they cannot open.
  • If possible, someone nearby should guide the tractor operator with hand signals.
  • Check the owner's manual for specific recommendations.

4  Miscellaneous Topics

4.1  Other Tips for Maneuvering

  • Slow down on turns and curves. A tractor's turning radius is much smaller than an automobile's. Taking a curve too fast can cause an overturn or a jackknife if machinery is attached.
  • Make sure that maneuvers when entering, turning, or leaving the highway do not interfere with other traffic.
  • Keep in mind that towed equipment might swing into the oncoming lane.
  • Only use the road shoulders when they are stable and well-maintained. Using unstable edges and shoulders can cause a tractor to overturn. Also, driving along the edge can be misleading to motorists. They may pull out to pass just as the tractor re-enters the roadway to avoid a mailbox or bridge. Remember that many motorists aren't familiar with tractors or equipment.
  • To let a line of cars pass, pull over to the side and stop, otherwise a culvert, mailbox, or other hazard might force the tractor to re-enter the roadway while cars are still passing.

4.2  Hazards of Filling Gas Cans

Vehicle fires sometimes occur while people are filling metal gas cans placed on plastic surfaces. This type of fire usually involves a gas can in the back of a pick-up truck with a plastic bed liner.

Gasoline tends to carry a static electric charge. When pouring gasoline into a can, this charge can build up on the can. If the can is sitting on concrete or on the ground, the static charge can safely flow away. But when the can is sitting on plastic, such as the plastic bed liner in a truck, the static charge can not escape because the plastic is an insulator, that is, it does not conduct electricity. A spark can occur between the can and the fuel nozzle and ignite the gasoline.

When the spark occurs in the flammable range in the gasoline vapor space near the open mouth of the gas can, a fire occurs.

Use only gas cans approved by OSHA and follow these precautions.

  • Use only an approved container.
  • Do not fill any container while it is inside a vehicle.
  • Always place the container to be filled on the ground, away from other people and traffic.
  • Keep the nozzle in contact with the can while filling.
  • Never use a latch-open device to fill a portable container.
  • Do not smoke.
  • While transporting containers, tie them in place.

4.3  Steep Slopes

Sometimes a tractor must be operated on a steep slope.

  • Backing up or driving down slopes can help prevent rear overturns.
  • If a tractor must be operated across the slope, use the widest possible wheel adjustment, very slow speeds, and extra caution in watching for obstacles that the wheels might hit.
  • Turn the front wheels downhill at the first indication that the tractor may be becoming unstable.

4.4  What to Do When the Tractor Gets Stuck

Getting stuck can be a real inconvenience, and sometimes people feel embarrassed in this situation, but it happens all the time. Getting unstuck can be very dangerous, so do not let irritation or embarrassment cause you to act unsafely. If you need help, set an example, and get help.

  • Always try to back out. Trying to drive forward is dangerous and can result in a rear overturn.
  • If backing out is not possible, get towed out forward by hitching to the tractor frame.
  • If the tractor must be towed out backward, hitch only to the drawbar.
  • When towing, use a chain or steel cable and tighten it slowly. Do not use a nylon rope because it can stretch and break, then snap back, resulting in serious injury or death. These have snapped back throwing the cable hook through the cab window, killing the operator.
  • Often, someone who is nearby and may be a relatively inexperienced operator is called upon to assist in pulling out stuck equipment. The tractor doing the pulling is doing the riskier operation, which could very quickly result in a rear overturn.

4.5  Used Equipment

The condition of equipment sold at auctions or transferred from person to person varies widely, so it is important to examine used equipment carefully. When equipment is purchased through a dealership, the purchase usually includes a warranty, directions for maintenance and operation, warning, "seals of approval" and assurances that the equipment conforms with voluntary or federal standards. Regardless of where equipment is bought, look for items that may detract from safety, such as missing shields and poor upkeep. A bargain price may not be worth the risks involved. Do not be blinded by a "sale" and end up with below-standard equipment.

Consider the following questions when buying used equipment.

  • Are operating manuals included?
  • Are shields and guards in place?
  • Is the equipment in decent condition? Breakdowns due to poor maintenance could cause unsafe working conditions.
  • If buying a tractor, is it equipped with a ROPS? If it is not, determine who is responsible for paying for it and making sure it is installed properly. Remember that tractors manufactured after October 1076 that are used by employees are required to have ROPS and seat belts per OSHA Standard 1928.51 (Roll-over Protective Structures (ROPS) for Tractors Used in Agricultural Operations).

4.6  Hand Signals

Hand signals have been developed to provide a uniform means of communication between workers on the ground and equipment operators. They are especially useful when noise, distance, or language barriers make voice communication difficult. There are eleven recognized hand signals found in ASAE Standard S351. They are illustrated in figures below: (1) Come to me. (2) Move toward me. (3) Move out. (4) Start the engine. (5) Stop the engine. (6) This far to go. (7) Stop. (8) Speed up. (9) Slow down. (10) Lower equipment. (11) Raise equipment.

4.7  Handling Large Hay Bales

When moving large bales, remember: Low and Slow. Avoid sudden movements and turns which can easily cause the tractor to overturn. The higher the loader is raised, the higher the center of gravity, and the easier the tractor will overturn. Only use equipment, such as a grapple hook or bale spike, that is designed to be used with your tractor model for bale transport. Placing a bale in a regular tractor bucket and anchoring with a chain is not adequate. Bales, especially if wet and thus very heavy, can snap the chain. The bale then rolls down the loader arms and crushes the operator. If the bale remains on the tractor, it may catch fire from exposure to hot engine components. The trapped operator will then be burned.

5  Tractor Operator Checklist

An operator checklist is provided at the end of this publication. This checklist is designed so that it can be kept as a record of a tractor operator's training. See Table 5 at the end of this publication for a sample checklist.

Safe and competent tractor operators are important to agriculture. Incidents that cause injury and death and damage tractors, equipment or crops are costly.

Many tractor incidents can be prevented by putting safer drivers on safer tractors in a safer environment. Safer tractor operations should be the goal of owners, managers, supervisors, and tractor operators.

The following is a requirement for all agribusinesses that fall under the jurisdiction of the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA).

“All tractor operators shall be informed of certain safe operating procedures when first assigned to operate a tractor and at least annually thereafter” These points are:

  1. Securely fasten your seatbelt if the tractor has a ROPS.
  2. Where possible, avoid operating the tractor near ditches, embankments, and holes.
  3. Reduce speed when turning, crossing slopes, and on rough, slick or muddy surfaces.
  4. Stay off slopes too steep for safe operation. If necessary, back up a slope and drive forward going downhill.
  5. Watch where you are going, especially at the end of rows, on roads, and around trees.
  6. Do not permit others to ride.


6  Resources

6.1  Web Sties

  • For more information about these and many other safety topics, contact your county Extension office, or visit the Florida Agricultural Safety and Health Program website:
  • "Tractor Fundamentals: Best Practices," North American Guidelines for Children's Agricultural Tasks. For more information, contact the National Children's Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety. Web site: < >.
  • Outdoor Power Equipment Institute: <>
  • National Agricultural Safety Database: <>

6.2  Safety Standards

  • "Hand Signals for Agriculture," ASAE Standard S351.
  • "Operator Controls on Agricultural Equipment," ASAE Standard S335.4.
  • "Roll-Over Protective Structures (ROPS) for Wheeled Agricultural Tractors," ASAE Standard S383.1.
  • "Symbols for Operator Controls on Agricultural Equipment," ASAE Standard S304.5.
  • "Roll-Over Protective Structures (ROPS)," Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA Standard 1928.51

6.3  Safety Decals

  • "No Riders" decals may be purchased from various tractor supply companies.



Appendix. Tractor Operator Checklist

Directions: This checklist is designed to evaluate a tractor operator's abilities to safely maintain and operate a tractor. Mark (X) in the Yes column if the operator can perform the activity, or in the No column if the operator cannot perform the activity. Mark the Not Applicable (NA) column if the activity is not appropriate for this tractor or operation.

Make of Tractor _____________________________ Model _________________________

Activity or Condition




Personal Safety Precaution




Only operate the tractor if you are physically and mentally alert.




Wear close-fitting clothes and proper shoes.




Eat and drink in moderation, and do not operate the tractor if you have been drinking alcohol or taking drugs or medication.




Use basic hand signals.




Preparing the Tractor and Equipment for Safer Operation




Do not operate the tractor in closed buildings.




Check the location and condition of the fire extinguisher.




Check the location and condition of the first aid kit.




Read and understand decals on the tractor.




Make sure that the shield for the PTO and other parts are in place.




Keep steps and platform free of dirt, grease, and debris.




Check if the slow-moving vehicle emblem is in place, clean, and not faded.




Test lights to be sure they are working.




Check for loose tools and parts.




Clean the windows.




Read and understand all controls.




Check the condition and pressure of all tires.




Check oil level; add oil as needed.




Check coolant level; add coolant as needed. Do not remove radiator cap when hot.




Check the battery electrolyte level and add battery water as needed. Don't use matches around the battery and don't smoke.




Check, clean, coat and tighten battery connections.




Clean and oil PTO shaft and splines.




Clean, connect and disconnect hydraulic lines.




Connect and disconnect electrical connections.




Locate all grease fittings and clean and lubricate them.




Refuel the tractor, making sure that the engine is cool and refrain from smoking.




Adjust wheel width.




Add or remove weights.




Check if equipment has been properly serviced and adjusted.




Starting, Operating, Stopping Tractor and Equipment




Never operate the tractor from the ground.




Make sure that the area is clear of people, pets and obstacles.




Adjust seat for comfort.




Start the tractor.




Check gauges for proper readings.




Listen for unusual sounds and shut off the engine if you hear any.




Check brakes.




Warm engine before applying a heavy load.




Raise, lower, and extend the drawbar.




Check hydraulic controls for proper operation.




Engage PTO slowly; check for proper operation.




Operate equipment at proper forward speed.




Operate equipment at proper PTO speed.




Watch and listen to equipment; shut off power at the first sign of a malfunction.




Do not unclog, adjust, or service equipment while it is running.




Observe all traffic rules when traveling on the road.




Lock brakes together for high-speed travel.




Shift gears properly.




Watch for obstructions in the field.




Back slowly, and watch behind.




When stuck, back out or have the tractor towed.




Leave the tractor in a low gear going down hills.




Cool engine, then shut it off.




On the following lines, add additional specific checklist items important for your workplace.




















Tractor Operator Instructions

1. Securely fasten your seat belt if the tractor has a ROPS.

2. Where possible, avoid operating the tractor near ditches, embankments, and holes.

3. Reduce speed when turning, crossing slopes, and on rough, slick or muddy surfaces.

4. Stay off slopes too steep for safe operation. If necessary, back up a slope and drive forward going downhill.

5. Watch where you are going, especially at the end of rows, on roads, and around trees.

6. Do not permit extra riders.

7. Operate the tractor smoothly — no jerky turns, starts, or stops.

8. Hitch only to the drawbar and hitch points recommended by the manufacturer.

9. When the tractor is stopped, set brakes securely, and use park lock if available.