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Equipment safety is critical for producers

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Published on April 4, 2020

Farm safety should be of the upmost importance to all producers. 

            According to Texas A&M University Extension Safety Program Specialist David Smith, agriculture remains among the most dangerous industries in the United States, although the threat of liability, litigation and severe monetary penalties is causing agricultural employers to give safety an added emphasis. 

            “Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations and worker protection standards now exist to promote safe workplaces and protect agricultural workers,” says Smith.

            “Modern farmers use a variety of machines to do farm work that used to require back-breaking labor. Today’s machinery is extremely specialized and designed to perform many different tasks,” he says. “However, these mechanical systems share many of the same hazards that seriously injury and kill hundreds of farm workers each year.”

            He continues, “Equipment manufacturers design machinery with safety in mind. They install guards, shields, warning decals and color-coded parts to warn of potential hazards.”

            “Despite these advances, working with and around farm machinery remains dangerous,” he notes. “Aged and homemade machinery with missing and damaged guards and shields is common and formal training on use of farm equipment is practically non-existent.”

Shear and cutting points 

            “Shear points exist when the edges of two objects move toward or next to each other closely enough to cut relatively soft material,” Smith explains. “Cutting points happen when a single object moves forcefully or rapidly enough to cut.” 

            “They are found with many types of crop cutting equipment, such as forage harvester heads, sickle bars and grain augers,” he says.

            Smith continues, “Shear and cutting points are hazardous because of their cutting force. They often move so rapidly that they may not be noticeable when in motion.”

Pinch Points 

            “Pinch points exist when two objects move together, with at least one of them moving in a circle,” according to Smith. “They are common in power transmission devices, such as belt and chain drives, feed rolls and gear drives. Fingers, hands and feet can be caught directly in pinch points or they may be drawn into pinch points by loose clothing that becomes entangled.”

            “Contact may be made by brushing against unshielded parts or by falling against them,” says Smith. “Machine manufacturers will cover pinch points with guards and shields that are removable for maintenance purposes.”

            “Unfortunately, many workers take off these guards for maintenance, but do not replace the shield when finished,” says Smith. “Once someone is caught in a pinch point, machines generally move too fast for him or her to get out. Be aware of pinch point hazards and don’t wear loose clothing that can become caught.”

            “Never reach over or work near rotating parts,” he notes. “Turn off machinery before performing maintenance and replace all missing shields.”

Wrap and crush points

            “Any exposed, rotating machine component is a potential wrap point,” Smith stresses. “Protruding shaft ends can also become a wrap point. A cuff, sleeve, pant leg or hair can catch on a rotating part and result in serious injury and death.”

            “Entanglement with a wrap point can pull a person into a machine or wrap their clothing so tightly the person is suffocated,” says Smith. “Contact with a wrap point may cause the person to lose balance and fall into other parts of the machine.”

            “Power take-offs (PTOs) and drive shafts are involved in the majority of serious wrap point injuries. Injuries occur when PTO guards and drive shaft shields become damaged or removed,” Smith says. “To prevent wrap point injuries, wear tight-fitted clothing, put up hair and look out for protruding bolts or U- joints that could snag clothing.” 

            Smith stresses to never attempt to reach over or climb under rotating parts. 

            “Crush points exist when two or more objects move toward one another, or when one object moves toward a stationary object,” he notes. “Hitching tractors to implements may create a potential crush point. Failure to block equipment safely can result in a fatal crushing injury. 

Crushing injuries commonly happen to fingers and hands at the hitching point.”

             “If we are hitching equipment on the ground, while the tractor operator is backing the tractor, make sure to communicate clearly,” he stresses. “We should never put ourselves or any part of our bodies between the tractor drawbar and implements.”

            “Never crawl underneath a machine or implement without first checking and blocking equipment,” he continues. “Never rely solely upon the tractor’s hydraulic system to keep raised equipment suspended.” 

Free-wheeling and pull-in points

            Smith notes the heavier a revolving part, the longer it will continue to rotate after power is shut off. Rotary mower blades, baler flywheels and various other farm machinery components will continue to move after power stops. 

            “Workers must allow time for these wheels or blades to stop before approaching them,” Smith says. “This may take as long as two minutes on some machinery.”

            “Pull-in points usually occur when someone tries to remove or force in plant material or other objects that have become stuck in feed rolls or other machinery parts,” according to Smith. “Many pull-in injuries involve round balers.”

            “The feed rollers on round balers occasionally clog when the hay is too wet, when the baler is pulled too fast or when too much hay is being fed into the baler at one time,” Smith explains. “Rather than shutting down the baler by disengaging the PTO, some operators try to dislodge the clog by trying to pull the hay out by hand or by kicking the clog with the feet.”         He continues, “Unfortunately, when jammed hay becomes dislodged, hands and feet are pulled in so fast that the worker cannot let go in time and is pulled into the rollers.”

Springs and chains 

            Springs are commonly used to lift equipment, to provide cushion and resistance on heavy machinery operating in rough terrain and to keep belts tight on pulleys. Springs harbor potential energy that, when released, can be potentially dangerous to bystanders. 

            “Spring injuries usually occur during machine maintenance,” Smith warns. “Be sure to read the operator’s manual carefully before performing maintenance. Know what direction a spring will move when pressure is released and know how other machine parts will be affected.” 

            “Chains are frequently used to secure two or more objects together or to pull heavy objects such as tree stumps, machinery and portable buildings,” Smith says. “When pulled tightly, the chain contains stored energy that is suddenly released when a link breaks, or if it becomes detached from either end.”

            “Before using a chain, make sure it is sturdy enough to do the job,” he suggests. “If any deformation in the links is detected, stop immediately and get a larger chain.”

            He continues, “Never allow anyone to be near the chain when it is under stress. Also, make sure to provide a protective barrier on either end in case the chain breaks and springs backward.”

Hydraulic systems 

            “Hydraulic hoses and cylinders provide power to lift implements such as plows and loader arms, change the position of implement components such as combine headers and scraper blades and operate hydraulic motors on tractor steering and brake systems,” says Smith.

            “Hydraulic systems also harbor considerable energy that can cause serious injury and death,” Smith warns. “Be careful when servicing, adjusting or replacing hydraulic parts. Refer to the operator’s manual for instructions.”

            “Check hydraulic hoses, motors and fittings regularly for leaks by using a piece of cardboard,” he suggests. “High-pressure blasts of hydraulic fluid can injure eyes and break the skin.”

            Smith suggests lowering equipment before servicing hydraulic systems, so that equipment does not fall unexpectedly. 

            “Treat hydraulic fluid as a flammable liquid,” he stresses. “We cannot be passive when it comes to agricultural machine safety.”

            “We must recognize the hazards as they exist, eliminate unsafe habits and risky behavior around machinery and read and follow the machine operator’s manual carefully,” Smith concludes. 

            Information in this article was compiled from the Texas A&M University Extension Fact Sheet titled, Agricultural Machinery Safety. For more information, visit

            Callie Hanson is the managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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