Tractors are the most dangerous equipment on Australian farms, causing up to 20 deaths per year and countless more injuries. Find out what you can do to stay safe.
The following article offers general advice to owners and operators about the safe use of tractors with attachments. Keeping yourself informed and aware of the risks might just save someone’s life.
Sobering statistics around tractor safety
Tractors are common on farms all around Australia, and their operators are exposed to the risk of injury or death from accidents or misuse. They have proven to be one of the most deadly pieces of equipment: in 2016 alone there were an estimated 9 deaths involving tractors and another 8 that caused serious injury – this makes safety paramount. In the same period an even larger number of less serious injuries caused costly work stoppages, downtime or lost productivity.
Common hazards with tractor and attachment use
Tractors are compatible with a variety of attachments, and even if the tractor is well set up and maintained, the attachment itself introduces an entirely new set of hazards. These combinations need the right amount of experience to set up, operate and maintain, in order to minimise the risk of injury or death.
Here are some common hazards, and their known controls:
- Tractor roll over
Tractor roll over is one of the most significant causes of fatalities on farms around Australia. These numbers have reduced since the introduction of roll over protective structures (ROPS). All tractors over 560kg must have a ROPS compliant cabin, and seatbelts should be retrofitted where necessary. It’s important never to attach a towing chain to the top link pin of any three-point linkage, and where possible a non-conductive plastic pole should be fitted to the front of the tractor to warn of overhead hazards.
- Tractor run over
Another cause of death and injury is tractor run over, which is often the result of poor practices such as starting the tractor from the ground, jumping from a moving tractor or disembarking without engaging the hand brake. When it comes to attachments, people must never ride on them unless they are specifically designed for that purpose, and those attachments designed to carry people must protect users from the risk of falls, ejection and entanglement. The inclusion of steps, rails and guards should ensure that operators step off outside of the rear wheel track.
- Falling objects
A large number of farmers have been killed or injured by objects that have fallen from front end loader (FEL) attachments. A safe system for lifting includes the appropriate lifting attachment for the material being handled and a suitable falling object protective structure (FOPS) on the tractor. It’s important to use the right attachment for the job, and to check that the tractor has rated lifting locations specified on the FEL. Check the tractor’s lift capacity to determine whether a counterbalance is necessary to achieve the required capacity.
A tractor with an attachment must be counterbalanced or ballasted correctly to ensure that the safety and structural integrity of the tractor is not compromised. Keep all loads within the rated capacities: if there are two load ratings for a FEL check with the manufacturer or operating manual to confirm. Stabiliser bars or chains on three-point linkage can prevent sideways movement and ballast will lower the centre of gravity. Always drive at a speed that is appropriate to conditions and make sure that tyre pressures are even and set correctly.
- Maintenance and repair
Injuries can occur due to a lack of tractor and attachment maintenance, and it is important to ensure that this takes place according to the manufacturer’s specifications. This includes routine checking of brakes, hydraulic couplings and hoses, filters and oil. Scheduled inspections and maintenance intervals should be shortened for high-load use and regular checks of the tyres for damage and correct pressure is paramount. Additionally, all attachments should be stored appropriately and maintained according to the manufacturer’s specifications.
A number of people have been killed or injured after becoming entangled in unguarded or poorly guarded parts of a tractor. Moving parts must be guarded as much as reasonably practical and operators should avoid wearing loose clothing, jewellery or long hair styles. Power take off (PTO) shafts must be disengaged until guarded, and these PTO master guards and shaft guards must be fitted and fixed, including covering universal joints and clutches. Any damaged or inadequate guarding needs to be replaced.
Correct storage and connection of attachments
People can be crushed when attachments collapse or fall over. To prevent this, it’s important to store attachments in a lockable shed, securing them to prevent them from falling or tipping over. It is best to store attachments at ground level where possible, in a manner that provides stability without the need for lifting. When connecting, never stand between the tractor and the attachment: if a second person is needed they should stand outside the wheel tracks. It can be safer to use alternative methods of connecting equipment such as a quick hitch or adjustable coupling.
Tractors can be dangerous, but with a vigilant approach to safety the risks of injury or death can be minimised. Being armed with accurate information about the correct ways to use your tractor with an attachment not only saves you time and money – it can also save lives.