No Shortcuts in Tractor Safety
CAPT. MATTHEW B. STEWART
B Company, 1108th Theater Aviation Sustainment Maintenance Group
Mississippi Army National Guard
Yazoo City, Mississippi
Growing up in the South, I operated tractors on a regular basis. I always thought the seat belt and rollover protective structure were so stupid. Why would you need all that safety stuff on a tractor that’s only traveling a few miles per hour? After hearing the details of an unfortunate tractor mishap, I quickly changed my tune.
A teenager in a town where I’d once lived was using a rotary cutter to clip the grass in a field. He was apparently driving too fast when he ran over a stump, which caused the tractor to bounce. The teen was thrown to the ground and the clipper ran over him, severing his legs and causing him to bleed to death. Had he been wearing a seat belt, he’d still be alive today. This accident really hit home and convinced me I’d been wrong about the importance of my tractor’s safety equipment.
Fast forward to a few years later when I was doing prep work for the upcoming deer hunting season. We had recently purchased some land neighboring our property and I was using my tractor to enlarge an already-established field edged with bamboo and tall grass that bordered a large creek on one side. I was wearing my seat belt and had the roll bar up and locked into place, but I started the task without first conducting a recon of the area. That mistake was almost my last.
After several passes by the creek, I decided to make one more run to put the finishing touches on my work. Because I hadn’t reconned the area, I wasn’t aware of a washed-out spot that extended into the field. My left-front tire fell into the washout and the tractor nearly overturned. Had it rolled, I would have likely ended up in the creek.
Fortunately, I’d been riding slowly enough that I was able to stop the tractor before it went any farther into the washout. I then used the front-end loader in conjunction with the four-wheel drive to work my way out of the situation. Afterward, I was able to finish my work without injury to myself or damage to the tractor.
While I thought I was doing everything right that day by wearing my seat belt and using a roll bar, my failure to conduct a proper route recon before I started working could have easily cost me my life. As Soldiers, we’re expected to incorporate safety into everything we do. In case you haven’t realized, there is a reason we wear eye and hearing protection, use ground guides, conduct rollover training, wear seat belts and perform route recons. It helps keep us safe! We must learn that these safety measures apply to our off-duty activities as well.
Remember, there are no shortcuts in safety. What if I had conducted a recon of the area but didn’t wear my safety glasses? While I would have avoided the wash out, I could have lost an eye had I taken a tree branch to the face. Doing most is not enough. We must be thorough and perform all the necessary safety steps to prevent an accident.
In an effort to reduce injuries and fatalities, the Kubota Tractor Corporation offers the following 10 Commandments of Tractor Safety.
- Know your tractor, its implements and how they work. Please read and understand the operator's manual(s) before operating the equipment. Also, keep your equipment in good condition.
- Use ROPS (rollover protection structure) and a seat belt whenever and wherever applicable. If your tractor has a foldable ROPS, fold it down only when absolutely necessary and fold it up and lock it again as soon as possible. Do not wear the seat belt when the ROPS is folded. Most tractor fatalities are caused by overturns.
- Be familiar with your terrain and work area. Walk the area first to identify any debris or obstacles that could hinder your ability to drive safely. Use special caution on slopes, slow down for all turns and stay off the highway whenever possible.
- Never start an engine in a closed shed or garage. Exhaust gas contains carbon monoxide, which is colorless, odorless and deadly.
- Always keep your PTO (power take-off) properly shielded. Make it a habit to walk around your tractor and PTO-driven implement, never over, through or between the tractor and implement, particularly if either is running. The PTO rotates with enough speed and strength to kill you.
- Keep your hitches low and always on the drawbar. Otherwise, your tractor might flip over backward.
- Never get off a moving tractor or leave it with its engine running. Shut it down before leaving the seat. A runaway tractor can be extremely dangerous.
- Never refuel while the engine is running or hot. Additionally, do not add coolant to the radiator while the engine is hot. Hot coolant can erupt and scald.
- Keep all children off and away from your tractor and its implements at all times. Children are generally attracted to tractors and the work they do. However, a tractor's work is not child's play. Remember, a child's disappointment is fleeting, while your memory of his or her injury or death resulting from riding the tractor with you, or being too close, will last a lifetime.
- Never be in a hurry or take chances about anything you do with your tractor. Think safety first, then take your time and do it right.