Washington State University
Environmental Health & Safety EH&S Factsheets

Tractor Safety and Operation Basics


A Tractor Operator:

  • Must be at least 18 years old and have a current driver’s license.
  • Be trained on the specific tractor and implements they will be using prior to operating equipment.

A Tractor Operator Is Responsible for the Following:

  • Using the right tractor and implement for the job.
  • Conducting tractor pre-operation checks.
  • Knowing equipment blind spots.
  • Previewing the route for obstacles, holes, slopes, ditches, terrain, etc. Removing debris in the tractor’s pathway.
  • Operating the tractor and implements safely in accordance to the manufacturer’s directions.
  • Continual awareness of potential hazards.

Tractor Operator Training Should Include:

  • Tractor hazards, operational basics, and familiarity with operator manuals and their location.
  • Importance of not operating equipment with mechanical problems, missing shields, or other safety devices.
  • Familiarity of hazardous terrains where the tractor will be used.
  • Passing a competency test drive for tractor and implement operation.
  • Written training documentation.

Common Tractor Accidents:

  • Rearward Roll Over occurs when: the tractor is stuck in mud or snow preventing the rear wheels from rotating; the rear wheels cannot turn because the incline is too steep; the clutch is released too quickly with the transmission in a lower gear and the engine at a high speed; or the load is too heavy and/or hitched above the tractor’s drawbar.
  • Sideways Roll Over occurs when: the tractor is driven on a hillside that is too steep or too close to the edge of a roadside ditch or embankment; cornering too sharply or too fast; or the tractor’s front-end loader is elevated too high on a hillside or in a turn at excessive speeds.
  • Front-End Loader Incidents occur when: lift capacity is exceeded; there is a difficult load shape; a lack of safety equipment exists; there is inappropriate use such as lifting people; speeds are too fast for working conditions; or the tractor may not have proper counter balance for the load.
  • Falls From Tractors occur when: improperly mounting or dismounting and carrying passengers. DO NOT allow passengers on the tractor.
  • Run Over Incidents occur when: others are in the line of travel; extra riders fall from steps, cab or draw bar; there is limited visibility of small children or when backing the tractor toward machinery to be attached; or from by-pass starting.
  • Caught-Between Incidents occur when: the tractor is backing up to an implement to hook up.

Tractor Safety:

  • Use the tractor responsibly in enclosed spaces to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning. This can occur inside buildings, shops or outdoors in close proximity to the tractor.
  • Decontaminate the equipment prior to any repair or maintenance work.
  • Use seatbelts when roll over protection is installed and maintain per manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Do not use the seatbelt if roll over protection is NOT installed.
  • If a Roll Over Protection (ROP) structure is not installed, contact EH&S to determine if one is required.
  • Do not use cell phones while operating the tractor.
  • Know the terrain such as small holes, depressions, wet areas or stumps that can cause a tip over.
  • Keep people and especially small children out of the area where a tractor is operating.
  • Follow operator manual instructions especially for side mount implement placement and operating on slopes.
  • Use clear communication methods between the operator and ground workers.
  • Do not allow ground workers to enter the area between a tractor and its implement until the tractor is stopped, shifted into neutral, brakes applied, and the PTO is not rotating.
  • When going up and down the tractor steps, use the handholds, face the tractor, use a 3-point mount, and DO NOT jump off.
  • Hitch loads properly to the drawbar.
  • Keep the tractor speed low, especially when going downhill on slopes.
  • Make wide, slow turns. Set the wheels wide.
  • It is better to use a tractor to pull out a tractor from a ditch or muck to avoid injury. Take care in using tire chains, boards, and other traction materials to improve tire traction.
  • Fuel the tractor when the engine is off and cool.
  • Fire extinguisher and first aid kit should be easily accessible in case of emergency.

Safety Awareness for Power Take Off (PTO) and Moving Part Hazards:

  • Do not wear jewelry, loose clothing or allow hair to hang loosely. These can get entangled with the shaft, U-joints, belts, or other rotating/ moving devices and cause serious injury.
  • Check for missing or damaged shaft shields prior to hooking up PTO equipment. Do not operate PTO if the shields are damaged or missing.
  • Switch off the engine; set engine brake and wait for the tractor and PTO implements to come to a complete stop before dismounting the tractor. Don’t leave a running tractor unattended!
  • Stay away from the PTO drive line until all parts have fully ceased rotating. Do not lean over; step across or crawl under the shaft. Do not unplug or adjust any PTOpowered machinery while it is in operation.
  • A potential for accidents exists at wrap points; pinch points; shear and cutting points; crush points with hydraulic systems; and by thrown objects. Do not operate if a machine guard is damaged or not in place.

Tractor Operation on the Highway:

  • Attach a slow moving vehicle sign. Use headlights, flashing lights, or safety clearance flags.
  • Always leave room to stop safely.
  • Secure attachments in the transportation position. Do not operate attachments while in transit.
  • Keep PTO in neutral.
  • Don’t travel on shoulder soft-spots, close to ditches or embankments.
  • Drive slow and pull over when needed to let normal traffic pass. Use extra caution when approaching intersections, turns, and curves.
  • Independent brakes must be locked together to avoid uneven braking in panic stop situations.
  • Watch for blind spots.
  • Have a cell phone readily available for emergency phone calls and carry emergency notification contacts.

Personal Protective Equipment:

  • Hearing protection for prolonged noise exposure when operating offroad.
  • Gloves that fit properly and are the right type for the job. Long pants to protect the skin from flying debris, exhaust burns, and other skin irritants.
  • Make sure PPE is chemically resistant if spraying pesticides.
  • Respirators to prevent the inhalation of dust, other particulates, and pesticide vapors.
  • Eye protection should be impact resistant, provide UV protection, and protect from chemical splash when spraying chemicals.
  • Portable eye wash bottles should be on hand when spraying pesticides that require eye protection.
  • Foot protection is required to protect feet from injury. Steel toed shoes work best.

Getting Assistance

Contact EH&S at 509-335-3041 if you have any questions about tractor safety.