Compact Utility Tractor Safety

Small Farm and Gardening Safety and Health Series
Agriculture and Natural Resources
S. Dee Jepsen, Associate Professor and State Safety Leader, Agricultural Safety and Health, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Jeffery Suchy, Graduate Student and Lecturer, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering

A compact utility tractor is a popular and indispensable tool for many small farmers, serious gardeners and homeowners. Its size and versatility make it the ideal choice for completing tasks such as mowing, material handling, soil work and general landscape maintenance. Although smaller, compact utility tractors are capable of performing similar tasks as larger farm tractors. Compact tractors are equipped with power take-offs (PTOs), three-point hitches and hydraulics, all of which allow the tractors to utilize a variety of tools, equipment and attachments.

The smaller size does not mean they are necessarily safer than larger pieces of equipment. It is important to recognize and follow safety precautions to prevent injury or death.

Safe Operation

It is the tractor operator’s responsibility to safely operate the equipment, and to be aware of operational hazards. Always read and follow the manufacturer provided operator’s manual before using a compact tractor. Although many units have similar features, safety and operation features may be unique to each piece of equipment. If the operator’s manual cannot be found, obtain a replacement by contacting the equipment manufacturer or a local dealer.

A tractor operator should wear close-fitting clothes and slip-resistant footwear. Loose clothing and long hair can get caught easily in rotating parts. When working around tractors and PTOs, always walk around the equipment while it is operating, and never step across a rotating driveline!

Follow these general precautions when operating a compact utility tractor: 
• Develop a “safety first” attitude. Always follow safe work practices, and set a good example for others.
• Understand fully all equipment safety features and controls.
• Know the equipment’s limitations and capacities, and do not exceed them.
• Follow the recommended maintenance requirements.
• Be physically and mentally capable of operating the equipment. Fatigue, stress, medication, alcohol and drugs can detract from safe tractor operation.

Inspection and Maintenance

Studies show that tractors are involved in a high proportion of farm fatalities and severe injuries. To avoid injury, follow safe management principles and implement a tractor safety program:
• Inspect the equipment for any hazards, and correct the hazards before operation.
• Shut down the tractor, turn off the engine, remove the key and wait for all moving parts to stop before dismount or inspection.
• Keep the operator’s platform clear of debris.
• Mount a reflective “slow-moving vehicle” emblem when the tractor is used on or near roadways.
• Make sure all lights and flashers are operational.
• Make sure the tires are properly inflated and free from damage.
• Make sure the hydraulic system is free from leaks.

Operator’s Manual on Equipment Compact Tractor With ROPS

Rollovers, ROPS and Seat Belts

Many tractor rollovers are caused by inappropriate speed or use, terrain, inattention, lack of proper ballast, or a combination of these factors. Most modern compact tractors come equipped with seat belts and rollover protective structures (ROPS) mounted to them. These protective features may not be present on older models or owner-modified units where the factory ROPS have been removed. Most manufacturers offer replacement or engineered, retrofit options to equip these units with ROPS.

ROPS are available as either fixed (two-point or four-point), foldable or integrated (as part of a cab). They are intended to limit the tractor’s overturn and provide a safety zone for the operator. In any form, they are intended to be used with the seat belt fastened. The only time a seat belt should not be worn is when a foldable ROPS is down or if a fixed ROPS has been removed for low-clearance situations. 


No Riders Allowed

Compact tractors have only one seat and are not designed for safe operation with an onboard passenger or a passenger on any attached implements. There is no safe place for children or other people to sit or stand. A compact tractor is not a passenger vehicle, and extra riders are never allowed, regardless of the task or the short duration for which they might be there. Here are some of the dangers riders pose:
• Falls from the equipment and being run over or entangled in the attachments.
• Exposure to noise, dust and the environment.
• Being struck by objects thrown from attachments or implements (mowers, tillers).
• Operator distraction.

PTO Shield Types Danger Label

PTO Shielding

Death or injury can result from becoming entangled with a PTO. Shielding is an effective safety measure used to protect workers from the rotating PTO shaft. Become familiar with the shape and location of each shield on PTO-equipped machinery, and inspect the shields regularly for damage. Do not use equipment with damaged or missing shields; rather, replace the damaged shields immediately! Look for three types of shields when inspecting PTO-equipped machinery: master shield, driveline shaft shield and implement shield.

Master Shield

The PTO on the tractor should have a rectangular or cone-shaped metal casing that encloses the area where the implement shaft connects to the tractor PTO stub shaft. Make sure the master shield does not have any dents, which might obstruct the yoke of the drive shaft as it rotates. A master shield can be replaced by removing the fastening bolts and replacing the entire shield bracket.

Driveline Shaft Shield

The rotating shaft should be encased within a cylindrical tube. When the power is off, the shield should rotate easily by hand. A driveline shaft shield may be removed to service the shaft, but remember to replace the shield before using the implement. Some shaft shields have a chain and a clip that prevent the shield from rotating freely. If the clip or chain breaks, the shield must be replaced immediately to prevent the chain from posing a hazard to the operator or bystanders.

Implement Shield

The shield on the implement may be in various shapes and locations, depending on what type of equipment it is. It should be located at the opposite end of the shaft from the hookup and near the gearbox. An implement shield can be removed to replace bearings or repair the gearbox, but it must be replaced before using the implement.  


Easy Ergonomics: A Guide to Selecting Non-Powered Hand Tools. Cincinnati, OH: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), 2004.
• Safety and Health Topics: Ergonomics. Washington, DC: United States Department of Labor - OSHA, n.d.

Reviewer: Kent McGuire, CFAES Safety and Health Coordinator, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering