On the modern equine farm, we use a variety of light-, medium- and heavyweight machinery, and it’s imperative that we operate this equipment safely. Equipment such as tractors, manure spreaders (ground driven and PTO), hay-making equipment, hay storage systems and rotary cutters make life easier, but these machines require training, knowledge and skill to operate safely. In North Carolina and across many other states, these machines kill an average of 100 farmers every 10 years, and injure thousands of others. The statistics hold true for our equine colleagues in Canada, too.
Most accidents stem from tractor overturns—75 percent to the side and 25 percent to the rear. The rear overturn is the most deadly, because the weight of the tractor usually lands on the operator’s chest and abdomen. This can crush vital organs or place so much weight on the chest the operator cannot breathe and suffocates. Think about the last time you felt your tractor lean due to a high center of gravity while loading a round bale in the barn, or having a load in the front end loader and traveling up or down hill. The center of gravity changes in our tractors as we raise and lower loads. The average tractor roll-over takes approximately 1.6 seconds from upset to resting on the ground.
Given this, ask yourself: Do you wear seat belts? Does your tractor have a Roll Over Protective Structure (ROPS/Roll Bar)? Since 1976, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has required ROPS and seat belts on tractors.
Other common tractor-related injuries are related to the Power Take Off (PTO) shafts on tractors. This shaft takes the power from the tractor and transmits it to an implement such as rotary cutters (brush hogs), augers, hay cutting and bailing equipment, and manure spreaders. The shaft turns in a clockwise fashion as you face the rear of the tractor. The shaft turns at 540 or 1,000 revolutions a minute.
That equals 9 to 16.66 revolutions every second. Think how many times you have crossed a running shaft to get to the other side of the tractor. Does your PTO shaft have a guard in place? Is it beaten and battered from damage and field use? Entrapments cause death and traumatic injuries to the unfortunate operators who get caught by their clothing trying to unclog a mower or baler.
Haymaking equipment also causes a great number of injuries and deaths. A baler is capable of taking a small deer or human and running them completely through the baler without clogging. In the mid-90s one of my friends was killed while kicking broken square bales into a round baler. A section of baler twine wrapped around his ankle and pulled him into the running round baler. The entire accident took about three seconds. The baler continued to run for another hour before someone found the tractor and stopped the baler.
Other baler accidents include: finger/hand amputation from belts and chains; PTO entrapment; and needle injuries and impalement on the spring tines. Another set of injuries are specific to the round baler: entrapment in the rear door; belt burns from the rotating compaction belt/chains in older balers; and bales rolling out of the baler onto the operator.