Farms can be very dangerous places, from handling large animals and chemicals to operating heavy equipment. A recent safety event hosted by Cornell’s Northwest New York Dairy, Livestock & Field Crops team focused on equipment precautions. It was led by Jim Carrabba, educator for Bassett Healthcare Network’s New York Center for Agricultural Medicine and Health. El-Vi Farms in Newark hosted the event.

“Always stay away from PTOs,” Carrabba said, about to illustrate the dangers of unshielded power take-offs. “If I need to repair equipment, I stop it and make sure everything is off.”

He demonstrated the destructive power of a PTO by operating one without a safety shield near a dummy. In the blink of an eye, the dummy was shredded, its stuffing blowing around on the ground.

“That’s what can happen if you’re nearby – and that was only on idle,” Carrabba said.

He warned that missing PTO shields should be promptly replaced.

Precautions can lower farm injury numbers

The dummy is shredded in less than a second in its PTO “accident” at El-Vi Farms. Photo by Deborah J. Sergeant

Operators also want to wear tight-fitting clothing in the right size. Baggy clothing, loose long hair or beards, dangling hoodie strings, untied shoelaces and more can all present PTO entanglement hazards.

Carrabba said that before repairing or maintaining equipment, operators should shut off all power and lock and tag equipment so that others know what’s going on. “Wait until everything stops moving,” he said. “Put the key in your pocket.”

Operators should only start tractors from the driver’s seat. “Don’t reach into the cab,” he said. “Get up in the seat and turn the key. The older tractors will run right over you.”

Carrabba said many farm injuries happen because of broken hydraulic lines, which are under a lot of pressure.

“If you had a raised implement, it can fall,” he said. “Before you use the machine, make sure they’re in good condition and not cracked or broken.” Any leaks or wetness that could indicate leaks should be promptly inspected by a competent worker.

A high-pressure injection injury can easily lay open a hand or other part of the body. “Never run your hand over the hoses to find a leak,” Carrabba said.

Operators should also wear their seatbelts and hearing protection. Ear buds or AirPods are not enough to preserve hearing.

He encouraged every farmworker to receive adequate skid steer operation training on the farm’s particular model and to review the instruction manual annually.

“Most deaths involving skid steers are when people are crushed between the arms and frame,” he said. “Get all your body parts inside the cab. Don’t leave the boom up in the air when you get out. The bucket should be locked out so it won’t fall while you’re working on it.” Most models of skid steer have a pin to pull to lock out the boom.

While driving, the boom should be close to the ground. Using a model skid steer, Carrabba demonstrated that at a 60º slope, a skid steer will likely topple. But with the boom raised, it takes only a 48º tilt.

While operating a skid steer, it’s important to make wide turns, not pivots. Carrabba also warned operators to mind their blind spots while operating equipment.

“A couple summers ago, a dad backed over his baby with a skid steer,” Carrabba said. “Always watch for people behind you.”

Operators should also check their equipment’s oil and tires and walk around equipment for an inspection before they start it.

When getting out of equipment, operators should keep three “points” on the machine at all times, moving only one hand or one foot at a time, and avoid jumping off the equipment. The handle holds are there to improve safety and should be used. The step should be kept free of mud and manure, which can cause slips.

by Deborah Jeanne Sergeant