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Old farm machinery safety

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure – and sometimes your life
Photo courtesy of Penn State University

The old tractor that you inherited from your grandfather is a still a tough work horse and gets everything done. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t without its dangers. A poorly-maintained tractor seriously injures or kills farmers every year.

Scott Heiberger is a communications specialist with The National Farm Medicine Center. He says older farm equipment is outdated and missing some of the latest standard safety features.

"We saw a statistic in Wisconsin, and it’s pretty similar probably nationwide, approximately half of the tractors in operation do not have roll over protection, don’t have seat belts," says Heiberger. "They’ll run forever so sometimes you’ll find maybe a lifestyle farming operation as well as production agriculture, a lot of these tractors still out there. Maybe they only use them a few times a year and for certain tasks. Old tractors, obviously you have to go across them very carefully and just stay on top of them."

Heiberger says a number of states including Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Vermont, New Hampshire, and New York have a ROPS rebate program. Farmers in those states can call an 800-number, the person on the other end will look for a retrofit ROPS to fit their tractor, and find a dealer to install it. And, there’s a 70% rebate available to cover the cost.

Another common hazard of old machinery is the power take off. If the safety guard is missing, it should be replaced.

"They’re pretty well put together, kind of a plastic sheath," says Heiberger. "They work real well and you balance that cost and effort of getting one of those versus the absolute catastrophe of getting caught in a PTO. If you do survive, your life will never be the same."

Old tractors have poor steps, so replacing them will prevent slips and falls. You might even need a new seat to avoid muscle and joint pain.

It’s critical to stay on top of repairs under the hood. Hoses become brittle and engines wear over time.

Farm machinery collectors have some tips for staying safe around old iron

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