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Digging In: Tractor Safety

By Alliant Specialty

In honor of National Farm Safety & Health Week, Bruce Droz sits down with Max Macias, Alliant Agribusiness, to discuss some of the biggest hazards relating to tractor use, emphasizing the importance of operating tractors safely out in the field.

Intro (00:01):
You're listening to Digging In where we dig into the insurance topics, trends and news surrounding all things Agribusiness. Here's your host, Bruce Droz.

Bruce Droz (00:17):
Hello, everyone. This is Bruce Droz of Alliant Agribusiness with another podcast episode of Digging In with Alliant, where we explore pertinent topics in Agribusiness. Today, our guest is Max Macias, Alliant Safety and Risk Control Specialist, and we're going to be talking with Max a little bit about tractor safety. Hello, Max, and welcome to the podcast.

Max Macias (00:40):
Hi, Bruce. Good to be here. 

Bruce Droz (00:41):
So, tractor safety is something that's very important. Tractors are big, heavy pieces of equipment that need to be treated with respect. What do you see as the biggest hazards out there having to do with tractors, maybe well-known or not well-known, and the types of things that are faced by employees driving tractors?

Max Macias (01:02):
To your point about them being an important part of our daily production in Ag, certainly equipment has it's gotten bigger, it's allowed us to do more work more efficiently. But with that, we begin to have issues in terms of employee exposures with these big pieces of equipment, if not operated in respect safely. And I say operated Bruce, because you mentioned something, you said tractor drivers. And that's the first thing that we basically kick out in terms of terminology to say, you're not a tractor driver, you're instead a tractor operator in the sense that it's not a piece of equipment that you're just using to drive around, but rather doing a lot of important work in the field, tilling, cultivating. So, definitely using the term tractor operator lends itself to the spirit of the operation of equipment. That's very critical to the production in Ag these days.

Bruce Droz (01:57):
Well, and you bring up an interesting point that we always think about the person driving the tractor is the one that's exposed through a rollover type of situation. But think about all the people that are sometimes around the tractor while it's being used, especially during harvest and other types of farming activities.

Max Macias (02:14):
Speaking of that, other employees, if you will, other staff members that could be around equipment, the tendency to want to jump on the equipment, maybe show that they can also operate a piece of equipment that's at times has led to issues regarding an employee getting injured, or even causing a problem with equipment by moving controls they aren't familiar with. So, there's that aspect of it, but also other individuals that sometimes we need to be careful of people on the road, as equipment you may have seen, we have all seen equipment being moved on public highways, public roads, and we have other drivers of vehicles that are around the equipment that have been known to cause safety concerns on the road as well and transporting equipment back and forth.

Bruce Droz (03:01):
Absolutely. In fact, we've seen some really large claims in that regard with vehicle accidents, hitting tractors, while they're towing equipment or going from field to field. So, given the potential hazards and severity of these types of claims, what kind of things should employers be looking at instructing their people to keep them out of these hazardous situations?

Max Macias (03:22):
It's twofold really, and it comes down to having the right people coupled with the right equipment. So, it's preparing them through good educational processes, onboarding new staff members, maybe as new equipment’s brought on that existing staff members are trained or educated in that new equipment. And some of the safety hazards involved specific to the particular operation itself, as well as other employees to basically, again, stay away from equipment, if you're not trained. Lots of times we'll talk about only trained certified and authorized staff members are to be operating equipment and it's behooves farm managers, operators, owners to basically make sure that those rules are enforced and reducing the exposure.

Bruce Droz (04:11):
Yeah, that's a good point, Max. And I'm just thinking back to that example that we gave about a tractor on the road. A lot of Ag operations happened early in the morning or even late at night due to certain wind conditions and atmospheric conditions that the farming operations need to happen at night. And when those tractors are out between fields on the road or transporting things on the road, it's extremely important. Now they've got the flashers on, they've got the triangles that kind of glow and light up. So that whole preparedness and regulations and rules of the road need to be followed as well.

Max Macias (04:46):
You bet. And then, well, let's not forget the fact that we have, you mentioned doing things late in the evening, as you could get into the night, having not night operations and the right lighting that increases, if you will, hazards for not only the operators themselves, but the people working around. Let's say for example, during great harvest, if you're doing, some of the gondolas and stuff and getting around there, making sure that there's plenty of lighting and the operator can easily see folks working. And of course, folks can be seeing each other as well.

Bruce Droz (05:14):
That's a great point. So, in your experience, Max, in the industry out there in the field, have there been any new or innovative technology that have come out that can help keep the workers safe around tractors or while operating tractors?

Max Macias (05:27):
Well, there are a few things that have come out in the recent years, everything from having equipment be more ergonomically designed, as we can say in general society. And that includes Ag society, Ag personnel. We all come in different shapes and sizes, right? So, making sure that equipment can be modified and adjusted to people's height and particular body structures, that helps again, the whole notion of having comfortable employees, typically more safe on the job. So that helps as well as some of the backup alarms and switches, etcetera, that if you're not mounted on the seat, a piece of equipment won't necessarily start or will automatically shut off, automatic lighting as you're entering and exiting cabs. All these things have lent themselves to at least an attempt by manufacturers to provide a safer piece of equipment, as well as some of the other computerized type of applications that are used to not only from a safety standpoint, but from production work more efficient.

And so that's helped a lot over the years as well, but that doesn't take away the other aspect. And that's what we've been mentioning here, educating employees as to why the idea that look, we can talk about Cal OSHA regulations, which maybe we can go into a little more detail here, in just a little bit, but all these regulations won't mean a thing. If employees don't understand that it's to their benefit, to operate in this safest way possible, keep themselves out of harm's way, coworkers out of harm's way and keep equipment at topnotch, including proper maintenance of equipment, all these things lend themselves to a better outcome.

Bruce Droz (07:10):
Very true, and it probably bears mentioning some of these technological advancements that you mentioned are just one reason, the cost and value of these tractors and other pieces of equipment have just skyrocketed over the years. So these are some expensive assets that need to be taken care of on behalf of the farming companies as well. Max, would you like to speak to some of the regulations that you mentioned a minute ago?

Max Macias (07:33):
Typically when we come out and perhaps assist with an employers for training program relative to tractor equipment operations, we go through some of the state, some specific counties have specific issues based on terrain, etcetera, but typically OSHA will have their points of safety, including, you know, your typical ones of having, one seat, there's obviously one person on the piece of equipment, but then we go into some of the specific rules that employers should, must and hopefully are enforcing. As we mentioned before, only authorized employees to be getting onto equipment, proper startup, proper shut off, end of shift, these safety rules don't end at the end of the day specifically. And you know, you just basically jump off the equipment and you're done. I mean, there's a shutdown procedure for getting equipment back to the yard, or back to the shop, or back to the barn and having it ready for the next day. It's all about the application of safety attitude, having things ready for the next day. And it avoids quick startups in the morning that, that we are not prepared for just because we need to make sure it's an all-encompassing educational program and not just based on OSHA regulations per se.

Bruce Droz (08:50):
Well, Max, thank you very much for that. Excellent and very timely information. We want everybody to stay safe out there. And again, thanks to all the listeners. This is Bruce Droz of Alliant Agribusiness for Digging In with Alliant. For more information, go to


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