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Farm Safety

Red tractor sitting in field of green grass with the sun shining behind it

Farm Safety Training

Farm Safety Program Summary

This Farm Safety Program provides information regarding tractor safety and other farm-related hazards. 

This program applies to all departments that have personnel that work on farms or who operate farm-related machinery and equipment, regardless of location.

Departments must ensure that a competent person is designated to provide oversight for farm-related work and that personnel operating tractors have attended related safety training. Training may also be required for other hazards, such as confined space entry, fall hazards, machinery shop safety, and electrical safety.

Farm Safety Online Program


The agriculture industry, grouped with forestry, fishing, and hunting, consistently ranks in the top 10 most dangerous jobs in the U.S. The purpose of this program is to provide guidance for the safe operation of tractors and awareness of other farm-related hazards. 

Each department with personnel who work on farms, or who operate farm-related machinery and equipment (e.g. tractors) must ensure personnel is aware of work-related hazards and that safe work practices and other necessary controls are implemented to reduce or eliminate the likelihood of injury or illness.

This program covers Virginia Tech personnel who operate tractors, or who are exposed to farm-related hazards, regardless of work location.


Environmental Health & Safety is responsible for developing, implementing, and administering the Farm Safety Program. This involves:

  • Training all personnel in the associated hazards and general safe work practices.
  • Maintaining centralized records of training and certification records.
  • Providing technical assistance to university personnel.
  • Evaluating the overall effectiveness of the program on a periodic basis.

Departments are expected to maintain a safe and healthy living, learning, and working environment for faculty, staff, students, and visitors to our campus. Departments must ensure equipment provided is of a safe design and in good condition, and that personnel working in farm applications are properly trained for the hazards involved.

Employees operating tractors must attend Farm Safety training, and use the equipment in a safe and responsible manner. Employees must report all defects of equipment to their supervisor for prompt servicing and repair.

Contractors must comply with all local, state, and federal safety requirements, and assure that all of their employees performing work on Virginia Tech properties have been suitably trained. Contractors must also comply with the requirements outlined in Virginia Tech's Contractor Safety Program.

Farm Safety Training

Personnel who will be operating tractors must attend Farm Safety training offered by Environmental Health & Safety at the time of initial assignment and at least annually thereafter. 

Training will address the following topics:

  • Safe operation and servicing of certain equipment, including tractors;
  • Prohibition of extra riders on tractors;
  • Common hazards (i.e. rollover, entanglement, hazardous energy sources); 
  • Safe operation, including stability, hitching and driving on slopes ;
  • Rollover protection (ROPS) requirements; and 
  • Machine guarding and shielding.

Tractor Safety

No other farm machine is so identified with the hazards of production agriculture as the tractor. According to the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, tractor overturns are the number one cause of farm fatalities in Virginia. Understanding a few key components of tractor stability and basic procedures can reduce the likelihood of rollover. 

Center of gravity: A tractor's center of gravity is the point where all parts balance one another. On a two-wheel drive tractor (on level ground), the center of gravity is typically 10 inches above and two feet in front of the rear axle (in the center), which is about where the operator's feet are located. The center of gravity on a four-wheel drive and a center-articulating tractor are located slightly more towards the front of the tractor. This results in approximately 30 percent of the tractor's weight on the front axle, and 70 percent on the rear axle.

Stability baseline: The stability baseline of a tractor is made up of imaginary lines drawn between the points where the tractor tires contact the ground. Front, rear, and side stability baselines are established. To avoid turnover, the center of gravity must stay within the tractor's stability baseline. The tractor's center of gravity does not move, but its relationship with stability baselines may change due to:

  • Added weight from attachments and items being hauled (center of gravity will shift to the front or rear of the tractor depending on what is attached or is being hauled);
  • Driving on a slope (center of gravity shifts to the downhill side);
  • Lifting a load (center of gravity shifts towards the load); and
  • Turning too fast (center of gravity shifts to the opposite direction you are turning in).

Rear rollovers: Rear overturns happen fast! It may only take three-fourths of a second to reach the "point of no return." This "point of no return" may only be 75 degrees from a level surface before the tractor will continue to roll over. 

  • Many rear rollovers are the result of changing the tractor's center of gravity from hitching above the drawbar. Always hitch low on the tractor and pull slowly. 
  • Another cause for rear rollover is driving forward up a steep slope, or backing down a steep slope and applying the brakes. Always back up or drive down a steep slope.
  • Driving forward when stuck in mud, snow, or ice can result in a rear rollover. This occurs when the rear axle is unable to rotate, resulting in the front end lifting off of the ground, and possibly passing the "point of no return." Always back out or tow to the rear instead.

Side rollovers: Side rollovers happen even faster! It only takes a half of a second to reach the "point of no return" for side rollovers. Common causes include: 

  • Driving across a steep slope or driving on roadways or slopes without locking rear brakes can result in side rollover. 
  • Driving too close to a ditch, culvert, or pond/creek. 
  • Towing a load that is too heavy.
  • Turning while driving too fast.

Rollover protective systems (ROPS) and wearing a seat belt are one of the best methods of preventing rollover deaths - they are 95 - 99 percent effective. Seat belts work with the ROPS to keep the operator in a safe zone within the ROPS structure. Many older model tractors can be retrofitted with such systems. Note: Operators should not wear a seatbelt on tractors not equipped with ROPS.

ROPS do not prevent turnover, but they do limit the degree of a rollover to 90 degrees - enough to prevent the operator from being crushed beneath the tractor. Always wear your seatbelt with ROPS. A tractor with an enclosed cab does not mean that it is equipped with ROPS. Check for a label on the ROPS system to verify that it is ROPS certified.

Some tractors are exempt from the ROPS requirement, which became effective on Oct. 25, 1976.

  • Tractors with 20 horsepower or less;
  • Tractors with mounted equipment that is incompatible with a ROPS cab or frame;
  • Low-profile tractors used in orchards, vineyards, farm buildings, or greenhouses where the clearance of the frame/cab would interfere with normal operations. Note: If the low-profile tractor will be used in other locations, it must be equipped with a ROPS. 

General machinery hazards include pinch points, shear points, hot surfaces, and rotating equipment. Injuries can be quite serious, including amputations or death. The employer must protect employees from coming into contact with hazards created by moving machinery parts. Guards must be capable of withstanding the force that a 250-pound person (leaning or falling against) would exert upon that guard. Guards must also be free of burrs, sharp edges, and sharp corners, and be securely fastened to the equipment (or building). Where the location of the hazard is such that no employee can inadvertently come in contact with the hazard during operation, maintenance, or servicing.

Power take-offs (PTO): Used correctly, PTOs can safely power feed grinders, bales, augers, mowers, choppers, and more. Used incorrectly, PTOs can rip off an arm, crush a skull, or sever a spine. A PTO can operate at around 1,000 rpm, or 16 rotations per second. A person can become entangled in rotating equipment in less than one second - making PTOs very dangerous. A person would barely have time to realize what was happening. Working around PTOs should be done with extreme care.

  • Turn off the tractor and PTO before getting off of the tractor. Remove the key. 
  • Distance is the best way to avoid accidental entanglement with PTOs - keep at least three feet from the PTO. 
  • Never reach over or step over the PTO. 
  • Wear snug-fitting clothing without strings or loose ends.
  • Keep long hair tied back and under a cap. 
  • Make sure that appropriate shields (guards) are in place, including the master shield, stub shaft shield, shaft shield, and implement shield. 

Hydraulic systems: Leaks in hydraulic hoses form a thin, high-pressure stream that quickly slices through the skin, causing a serious injury called hydraulic fluid injection. Surgical removal of the fluid may be necessary, and if not properly cared for, gangrene may result. Always seek medical attention for this type of injury. Hydraulic systems can also fail without warning. Follow these tips: 

  • Use a piece of cardboard or paper to search for leaks - not your hand.
  • Relieve pressure before disconnecting a hydraulic line.
  • Never cross hydraulic lines. If the lines are not coupled correctly, the implement will not rise and drop as expected. Tape or color code lines to prevent mistakes. 
  • Never stand or work under raised equipment that is not supported by an approved lift support device.
  • Keep ends of hoses and connections free from dirt and debris.

Rural roads can often be more deadly than interstates. Unfortunately, it is often necessary to operate farm machinery on rural roadways. A slow-moving vehicle emblem is required for tractors traveling 25 mph or less. Note: Modified vehicles or just driving slowly in a farm truck, for example, is not considered a slow-moving vehicle. Often, tractor operators on roadways will motion vehicle traffic to go ahead and pass the tractor. For liability reasons, this should be avoided. Let the vehicle driver make the decision to drive around the tractor. If there is an accident, it will be their responsibility and not yours.

  • Place slow-moving vehicle emblems on the very end of the load being pulled. If no load is being pulled, the emblem should be placed on the tractor in a highly visible location. Emblems should be clean, clear, and not faded.
  • Also recommended are flashing lights and an escort vehicle.
  • Avoid traveling on roadways at night when visibility is poor.

Other Farm Related Hazards

Farms, and the work associated with the farms, typically can be quite dangerous due to the nature of the work, machinery and equipment being used, and the facilities themselves. Links and general applications are provided below for your information and to provide guidance when determining necessary training and work practices.

All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) Safety

Information for personnel who operate ATVs and UTVs regarding proper training, safe operation, and requirements for equipment/implements.


Persons who work with or around animals can suffer injuries from being bitten, kicked or crushed, can be exposed to infectious diseases, have a risk of developing animal related allergies, and can be exposed to noise that can affect ones hearing. For more information, please see the Occupational Safety and Health Program for Animal Handlers. All employees who work with animals should participate in the Occupational Health Assurance Program. For information on zoonotic diseases associated with animals, see the Appendix C of the Infection Control Program, or for specific information see the following fact sheets for various animals: Swine, Cattle, Sheep and Goats, or Horses. For guidance on suspect rabies exposure incidents and response protocols, see the Rabies Fact Sheet.

Confined spaces

Requirements for entry into silos, feed bins, grain bins, manure pits, etc. have confined spaces.

Electrical hazards

Requirements for electrical hazards, such as outdated electrical systems in facilities, use of temporary wiring, and overhead power line hazards.

Excavation hazards

Requirements for excavation work, where the depth of the excavation is greater than 4 feet deep.

Fall hazards

Requirements for personnel who are exposed to fall hazard situations greater than 4 feet above the next lower level.

Hazard Communication Program

Requirements for the proper management of chemicals.

Hearing Conservation Program

Information regarding the Hearing Conservation Program or voluntary use of hearing protection devices.

Ladder Safety

Information for safe use of step ladders and extension ladders.


Requirements for proper servicing/maintenance of machinery or systems involving hazardous energy sources, such as electrical, hydraulic, pneumatic, gravity, etc.

Machine Shop Safety Program

Information on wood- and/or metal-working working machinery.

Personal Protective Equipment Program

Information on the selection, use, and care of personal protective equipment. 

Powered Industrial Trucks

Requirements for personnel who operate forklifts, or tractors/bobcats with fork extensions.

Vehicle recovery

Basic guidelines and resources for recovering stuck vehicles.

Frequently Asked Questions

Virginia Tech Pesticide Programs (VTPP) provide pesticide safety information, training, and educational resources to pesticide applicators, Extension agents, and the public.  

In addition, the Office of Pesticide Programs under the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) provides certification and registration services. 

Equipment that may be contaminated with hazardous materials must be cleaned by the user/owner before asking anyone outside the group to service, move, or pick up for surplus sale. The Lab Equipment Decontamination Form is used to prepare items for handling by workers including service personnel, moving teams, and Surplus Property staff.

Is training mandatory? If so, when? Yes. Individuals who oversee the use of agricultural equipment that incorporates power take-offs exposed moving parts or similar hazards must attend this training. This person is to provide needed on-site training for other employees at this work location.

Class length: 2 hours.

Available online: Yes.

When is refresher training required? Annually.

Please see the online class schedule for more information.

Move/store equipment indoors and under a covered area. Use drip pans, funnels, and absorbent material, and maintain spill cleanup supplies near any designated maintenance areas. Store any used fluids in a recycling drum or water-tight container to be disposed of by Environmental Health & Safety.

  • Never apply chemicals before a predicted rainfall event, during periods of high wind speeds, or within close proximity to surface water.
  • Ensure all containers are water-tight after each individual use.
  • Provide cleanup supplies near areas of use to facilitate immediate cleanup, if necessary.
  • Ensure all containers are labeled properly.
  • Always be sure to use, store, and dispose of pesticides/herbicides/fertilizers according to the manufacturer's specifications.

If possible, store all bulk material under a covered area, or with a secure impervious covering. Avoid storing materials near waterways or on a slope to prevent runoff from rainfall events. Ensure that all containers are properly labeled.

Contact Information

Robin McCall-Miller, Occupational Safety Program Manager