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Tractors are one of the most important pieces of equipment on a farm, yet they are also among the most dangerous. More deaths are caused by tractors than by any other type of farm accident. It is therefore imperative that farmers routinely check their tractors and keep in mind the following safety guidelines:

Operation safety

A rear rollover generally happens too fast for the operator to react; it takes only 3/4 of a second to reach the point of no return. Most rear rollovers are the result of changing the tractor's center of gravity. Normally, a tractor's center of gravity is located about two feet in front of and ten inches above the rear axle. Hitching above the drawbar or in a location not designated by the manufacturer increases the risk of a rear turnover.

Excessive throttle use or applying too much power to a restrained rear axle can cause the front-end of the tractor to lift off the ground. As the front end lifts it gains momentum and the tractor flips over. Without a ROPS and a seat belt the operator will likely be crushed.

If a load must be pulled up a hill, keep the operation of the clutch and throttle smooth. Do not stop or shift gears while driving up a hill.

Back out of ditches, holes or places where the tractor is mired or wedged. Extra time may be spent unhitching and moving machinery out of the way, but it will be a fraction of the time that may be spent healing from injuries suffered from a turnover, if you survive. If backing out a tractor is not possible, use another tractor to pull the stuck tractor free. Always make sure the chain is hitched to the drawbar of the pulling tractor. Never place boards in front of the tractor wheels or attempt to move the tractor forward by its own power.

Operating on unlevel ground can change the tractor's center of gravity, making it easier to turnover. Mounted equipment, especially if the equipment is not mounted as directed by the tractor manufacturer, will also shift the center of gravity.

Always keep front-end loader equipment in the lowest position possible when in transport. A front-end loader in the raised position alters the tractor's center of gravity, reducing its stability.

Turning too quickly or too sharply may increase the centrifugal force against the tractor and cause it to overturn sideways. Always slow down when turning.

Tractor speeds should match surface conditions. Rough or uneven surfaces require reduced speeds. Be alert for rocks, holes, embankments or other hazards that can change the tractor's center of gravity.

When working on a sloped surface, use a tractor with a wide front-end and space the rear wheels as far apart as possible. Cross slopes slowly and keep side-mounted equipment on the uphill side of the tractor.

Lock brake pedals together when driving at transport speeds to ensure even braking. Shift to a lower gear before traveling downhill to let the engine and transmission reduce speeds. Be sure that any loads are not going to try and outrun the tractor on the way down a hill. To avoid having a load outrun the tractor, never pull a load heavier than the tractor can safely handle under any conditions that may be encountered. Remember, two trips may take longer, but it is better than never completing the job.

Use rear-view mirrors if you need to keep an eye on rear attachments or loads. Operators twisting to look over their shoulder can cause the tractor to swerve abruptly.

Be sure the tractor and implements have adequate lighting and are equipped with a bright slow-moving vehicle (SMV) emblem whenever the tractor is driven on a public road. Vehicle accidents on roads have resulted in tractor overturns.

Always back up and drive down hills with a conventional style tractor (rear wheels larger than the front wheels). Remember that the front is always pointing down hill whether the operator is backing up or driving down the hill. When backing up or driving down a hill, keep the tractor in low gear. Never turn sharply on hills. Tractors are also subject to rear turnover when driven up a steep incline. Backing the tractor up the hill keeps the weight on the front wheels, preventing the tractor from flipping over.

On a conventional-style tractor with proper ballast 35 percent of the weight is in the front and 65 percent in the rear. If the front end is too heavy, the tractor will be difficult to turn as the tires dig into the soil. If the front end is too light, the tractor will not turn as quickly as expected, and there is an increased chance of a rear rollover.

When crossing hills. if the operator is leaning significantly toward the uphill rear tire. the tractor is on too steep a slope. All that is required to overturn a tractor is a hole on the downhill side, a bump on the uphill side, or both. More deaths occur from side rollovers than rear rollovers. If on a too steep hill, the operator should stop the tractor and look around to determine the safest means of getting off the hill. The operator can either turn and back up or turn and drive down the hill. There may be a fence or ditch at the bottom so the operator must back up the hill. Or there may be an obstruction of some type at the top of the hill, thus turning and driving down the hill is safer. If backing up or driving down is not possible due to obstructions, back up slowly in the same wheel tracks from the direction the operator came until it becomes possible to either back up or drive down the hill. The operator knows the surface he/she drove over, but the operator may not know if the terrain is passable if he/she continues forward. Even slopes that have been traversed often may not be safe; a rock or hole struck at the wrong angle or speed could result in a side rollover.

If the operator's tractor has a Rollover Protection Systme (ROPS) cab or rollbar then the seatbelt must be worn. There has been only one death in the United States where a ROPS was properly installed and the seatbelt was worn. The operator went off a 14 foot bridge and landed upside down. There have been many deaths when ROPS were present, but the seatbelt was not worn. It is more dangerous to have a ROPS and not wear the seatbelt than it is not to have a ROPS.

The only time seatbelts should not be worn is when a ROPS is not present on the tractor allowing the operator a chance to escape. Tractors without a ROPS tend to roll over 180 degrees or more (there is no room for an operator when the tractor is upside down). A tractor with a ROPS roll over approximately 90 degrees. The safest protection is to have a ROPS and a seatbelt installed on the tractor and wear the seatbelt.

If the tractor is equipped with a front-end loader. Operate the tractor with the front-end loader in a down position. When the loader bucket is up, the tractor's center of gravity moves to a higher position. This makes the tractor unstable and subject to side rollover. If the bucket must be up to complete a task, operate the tractor in a lower gear, do not turn sharply and return the bucket to the down position when possible.

Tractors are designed to tow loads from the rear hitch only. Never hitch a load to the axle or seat as this will cause the tractor to upset backwards. Always match your load to the tractor. Tractors that are too small for the load will have problems stopping once the load has begun to move. If the tractor needs extra weight for balance, add front weights as necessary. Balance the weight of the load on the trailing implement in order to minimize the stress at the hitch point.

Only hitch equipment to the tractor at the draw bar unless the equipment has been specifically designed to attach to the three-point hitch. Draw bars can be attached to the lower arms of the three-point hitch. Inadvertently, the three point could be raised, increasing the potential for a rear rollover. Attaching equipment higher than the draw bar can produce enough torque to cause it to roll over to the rear.

If the tractor is stuck, never attach a log, fence post, or other object to the tires to provide more traction. If the tire should suddenly stop rotating as it tries to overcome the hump, the potential for a rear rollover increases significantly and the post or other object may be thrown up behind the tractor, hitting the driver.. Attach towing equipment to the draw bar only. The best solution is to have another tractor pull you out.

Keep equipment in good working order with proper maintenance. Ninety-five percent of all accidents occur because of human failure. Keeping equipment in good working condition eliminates the remaining 5 percent of accidents that occur from equipment failure. Furthermore, keeping equipment in good working condition and using proper maintenance practices reduces the potential number of major repairs. The equipment also will be more dependable in accomplishing tasks.

Always shut off the tractor and engage the parking brake or put the transmission in park before getting off. Doing this eliminates the chance of being run over or entangled in running machinery (i.e., PTO shafts and towed powered machinery). If there are other people around, keep them at a safe distance and in sight. Remove the key.

Never allow an extra rider on equipment. If there is only one seat on the tractor, then the only person that should be on the tractor is the operator. Many children and adults are killed by being run over by tractors or equipment. The extra rider can be knocked off, forced off or fall off.

Tractors and other equipment that are not designed to travel at more than 25 miles per hour must display a Slow Moving Vehicle (SMV) sign. This sign must be placed not less than 2 feet nor more than 6 feet above the ground with the point directed upward and placed at the rear of the tractor or equipment. If the SMV is faded, replace it. Many accidents occur every year when motorists run into the rear of slow moving equipment. An additional method to protect the operator and motorists is to turn on flashing four-way amber lights. This gives motorists an indication that the equipment is travelling 25 MPH or less.

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This page was last updated on November 16, 2002