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safety first
Taking time to check the details can help prevent an accident.
C magazine

Look first to increase safety while on the move

Constant awareness is critical when climbing behind the wheel of a moving vehicle, the safety experts emphasize.
May 28, 2021

Check these equipment features to stay safe:

  • Keep it light. Be sure lights are working and clean.
  • Check the dash. Be sure all cab functions work, from defrosters to windshield wipers.
  • Take a turn. Confirm turn signals are operating.
  • Fix it, don’t forget it. Keep maintenance up to date.
  • Sign up. Keep SMV (slow-moving vehicle) signs clean; replace them when faded.
  • Keep rolling. Check tire inflation, rims and lug nuts.
  • Brake it. Test brakes and air brakes.
  • Be visible. Wear high-visibility clothing, especially in low-light conditions.

Daily equipment inspections and a walk-around before and after every use helps keep operators and others safe.

“While we’ve seen critical advances in technology to improve safety, it’s still important to get out and walk around before operating vehicles on the farm,” says Matt Surdick, manager of health and safety for CHS Country Operations. “Use the GOAL technique: Get out and look.

“You can’t trust that there are no obstructions or people around you,” he adds. “Take the extra few minutes to be sure the area is clear. Things can change rapidly, especially during busy seasons.”

Watch for Trouble

Operating farm vehicles and equipment carries considerable risk, says Emily Atwood, regional manager for risk management at Nationwide, the number-one insurer of farms and ranches in 2019, according to A.M. Best, which rates insurance companies. Vehicle and equipment accidents, both on and off the road, are among the most prevalent farm insurance claims for the company.

“Motorists don’t understand what it’s like to operate farm equipment, that there are blind spots and you can’t respond quickly,” says Atwood. “Be aware of your surroundings, anticipate what could go wrong and have a plan for what you’ll do if something does happen.”

She advises using one or two pilot vehicles when moving equipment on heavily traveled public roadways with traffic. “A pilot vehicle helps slow down traffic. That’s especially important when other cars are going around curves or over the crest of a hill and aren’t aware your slower equipment is there.”

New Equipment, New Drivers

The range of equipment and vehicles used on most farms, from skid-steer loaders to big rigs hauling grain, means operators may not be comfortable in every driver’s seat. 

“There are two kinds of people behind something with a motor: experienced drivers and inexperienced drivers,” says Jerry Valley, a CHS regional safety specialist based in Crookston, Minn. “Experienced people will take certain kinds of risks, like thinking about vehicle horsepower and calculating how quickly they can get to speed before a car reaches them. An inexperienced operator thinks driving a truck is like driving a car, but a vehicle that weighs 80,000 pounds isn’t very forgiving.”

“With new — or new to you — equipment, talk with someone who has used it before,” says Surdick. “Find out about the challenges unique to that equipment and take advantage of the perspective of someone who has been sitting in that seat.”

Give new operators a leg up on safety with a skills check before putting them behind the wheel, says Valley. “Take time to evaluate their ability to handle a vehicle before letting them loose. Go for test rides with new employees to assess their ability to manage the unexpected.”

Brief safety meetings to begin the work day can help keep prevention top of mind, Atwood adds.

Stay Safe on the Road

Nationwide safety experts suggest the following tips for avoiding accidents while on the road with farm vehicles and equipment.

  • Keep slow-moving vehicle (SMV) signs clean; replace themwhen faded.
  • Mark edges of tractors and equipment with reflectors or reflective tape.
  • Install mirrors on equipment so you can see other vehicles; check sight lines and keep mirrors clean.
  • Turn on lights, but turn off rear spotlights to avoid confusing motorists.
  • Research traffic patterns and avoid heavy travel times.
  • Use pilot vehicles in front of and behind farm equipment; identify pilot vehicles with brightly colored flags.
  • When traveling with multiple pieces of equipment, keep enough space between them for vehicles to pass.

Pay Attention

Constant awareness is critical when climbing behind the wheel of a moving vehicle, the safety experts emphasize. 

“Bad things happen when you fail to pay attention,” says Valley. “Keep your cellphone in your pocket.”

Make eye contact with anyone in your area before engaging the vehicle, Surdick adds. “If there’s a lot of noise, they might not be aware you’re preparing to move.”

Awareness includes what’s happening with the driver, he says. “Fatigue management plays a role in accident prevention. When you push yourself a little too far, that’s when mistakes happen and injuries occur. Be mindful of how the day is going and listen to your body before and while you operate equipment.”

Communicating about potential risks helps head off problems, Surdick adds. “If you see something, tell others what you’re seeing, so you can all take action.”

“When you’re operating equipment, you should always be thinking about safety,” adds Atwood. “Safety is everyone’s job.”


Check out the full C magazine with this article and more.

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