Using machines safely

Hazardous areas on agricultural machines

Many agricultural machines have potentially dangerous moving parts, which can cause serious or fatal injuries. For example:

  • balers – pick-ups, twine mechanisms and moving rear doors;
  • forage harvesters – chopping cylinders;
  • combine harvesters – augers in the grain tank and the header unit;
  • potato harvesters – rotating rollers and conveyors;
  • slurry tankers – power take-off (PTO) shafts;
  • bale and straw choppers – chopping mechanisms;
  • tractor – hitch mechanisms, PTOs and PTO shafts;
  • power harrows – rotating tines;
  • feeder wagons – rotating components in the mixing chamber.

Safe Stop

Safe stop logo

  • Engage handbrake
  • Controls in neutral
  • Switch off engine (or turn off power)
  • Remove key (or lock-off the power supply)

Have you used your handbrake?Controls in neutral?Have you switched your engine off?Have you taken your key out?

Follow Safe Stop:

  • before leaving the driver's seat/operating position;
  • when anyone else approaches;
  • before anyone carries out maintenance, adjustments or deals with a blockage.

The images above have been developed by the Farms Safety Partnership. For more details of the Partnership's Safe Stop campaign visit their website.

Before you start

Before using a machine, consider the following:

  • Is the machine you intend to use suitable for the job?
  • Are all safety devices such as guards in place and working correctly?
  • Are you (or the operator) properly trained to do this job/use this machine?
  • Has the instruction manual for the machine been provided, read and understood?
  • Is the right personal protective equipment (PPE) available and worn?
  • Has a risk assessment been carried out?
  • Has the work been properly planned and communicated to those who may be at risk?
  • If two or more people are involved, has everyone understood what needs to be done and has a system of communication been agreed on?

Is the machine operator competent to do the job safely?

  • Are all operators/workers trained to do this job?
    • Workers should not use a machine unless they are properly trained and know how to use it safely.
    • You should also check that any contractors you intend to use are competent to do the job.
    • Don't forget that training is needed by casual or seasonal workers
  • Is suitable clothing and footwear available and worn (including any PPE)?
    • Safety boots should usually be worn when using machinery and operators should wear clothes that will not snag on machinery or controls.
    • Any jewellery (including watches and rings) that might snag should be removed and long hair tied back so it does not get caught up in moving parts.
  • Have operators been provided with relevant information?
    • The operator should read and understand the instruction manual.
    • They should also be provided with any relevant information to enable them to do the work safely, eg information from risk assessments.
    • Where workers travel on the machine, eg a manned potato harvester, they should also receive adequate instructions and training.

Before using the machine

Before working with any machinery, carry out a basic check to make sure that it is in good working order and safe to use. This could include:

  • Mechanical defects – pay particular attention to items such as brakes, wheels and tyres.
  • Guards and other protective devices (eg PTO shaft guards) should be correctly fitted and maintained in good condition.
  • Check that stopping devices are functioning correctly, eg emergency stops.
  • All controls should be clearly marked to show what they do.
  • If workers are to be carried on the machine ensure they can do so safely, eg check for safe means of access, working platforms have guard rails etc.
  • Hitching and attachment points – check the machine has been safely attached to the towing vehicle. Pay attention to the condition of drawbar/pick-up hitch, and hitch rings, pins, clips etc.
  • Carry out any pre-use checks as specified in the operator's manual.
  • For self-propelled machines, make sure mirrors are clean and properly adjusted. Check any other reversing aids are working.

Using the machine

When you are working with a machine:

  • Don't remove or defeat guards (eg by overriding safety devices) in order to allow the machine to work quicker or to avoid blockages or other problems.
  • If guards become damaged or defective, stop work and take action to get them fixed. Don't leave it until later.
  • Don't run the machine when the guards are removed.
  • Replace all guards before making a test run and check the machine before restarting.
  • Check for bystanders and warn them before you restart the machine.
  • If the machine is to be checked again after the test run, repeat all safety procedures – especially Safe Stop

Dealing with blockages or other problems

  • Always follow the Safe Stop procedure before carrying out any intervention.
  • Secure anything which could fall on you, eg by using props or scotches on tailgates/doors.
  • Secure anything which could move or rotate, eg by using chocks.
  • Remember that energy may be stored eg in springs or hydraulics. Consider how will you stop this energy being released or release it safely.
  • Use the right tools for the job. The wrong tools may not work, cause damage or create additional safety risks
  • Remember that machine components may suddenly move when a blockage is cleared.
  • Follow the manufacturer's instructions/procedures, eg as set out in the operator's manual.
  • Use built-in ladders and other purpose-designed access points and platforms where provided. Where such facilities don't exist you will need to consider alternative safe means of access, eg with measures provided to prevent falls.
  • When the job is finished, always replace the guards before running the machine.
  • Check the machine over and make sure that people are well clear before restarting.

Finally, don't forget, NEVER:

  • use a machine unless you know how to use it safely and have received suitable training;
  • attempt to clear blockages or clean a machine unless you have followed the 'safe stop' procedure, the drive is disconnected, the machine is stationary and components have stopped;
  • wear long chains, loose clothing, gloves or rings, or keep long hair loose, which may get caught up in moving parts;
  • distract people who are using machines;
  • mount or dismount from a moving tractor or other self-propelled machine.

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