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Section 1: Tractors and Other Self-Propelled Farm Equipment


The Occupational Health and Safety Guidelines for Farming Operations in Ontario were developed to highlight specific, and sometimes unique and unusual hazards on farms. They were jointly prepared by representatives of the farming community, the Farm Safety Association (now Workplace Safety and Prevention Services), the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the Ministry of Labour.

The purpose of the guidelines is to help employers, supervisors and workers on farms recognize hazards and determine the ways they may best comply with their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), and the relevant regulations. The guidelines provide general information to those in the workplace to help them identify specific hazards and dangerous situations. The guidelines may also provide the workplace parties with suggestions to consider in determining how to protect worker health and safety and to prevent injuries.

It is important to understand that the guidelines do not replace the laws that are in place. Employers, supervisors and workers on farms have responsibilities and rights under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the following three regulations under the Act: Regulation for Farming Operations, O. Reg. 414/05, Critical Injury Defined, R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 834 and Occupational Health and Safety Awareness and Training, O. Reg. 297/13. The requirements in the OHSA and these three regulations must be complied with.

Employers have a legal obligation to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of workers; and, supervisors and workers must take appropriate steps to identify and address all workplace hazards. The guidelines are a starting point for the workplace parties to think about how to fulfill their obligations under the OHSA. Following the recommendations suggested in these guidelines does not relieve the workplace parties of their obligations to comply with the OHSA.

This is the first edition of the guidelines. They will be reviewed and updated on an ongoing basis, as needed, and expanded as new production methods and technologies emerge.

Tractors are the piece of machinery most commonly involved in farm accidents. Roll-overs account for about half of all fatal tractor accidents and are responsible for many disabling injuries and considerable property damage. About 85% of tractor upsets are side roll-overs; 14% are rear overturns, and 1% are front overturns. Most overturn fatalities occur with tractors that are not equipped with Roll-Over Protective Structures (ROPS).

This section covers the following topics:


Roll-Over Protective Structure (ROPS):
A structure on a farm tractor or self-propelled machine that limits most equipment roll-overs to 90 degrees and protects the operator within the frame of safety if he/she is wearing the seatbelt.
Power Takeoff (PTO):
A shaft that allows transmission of power from a farm tractor to a piece of equipment attached to it.
Self-Propelled Farm Equipment:
A self-propelled vehicle manufactured, designed or re-designed for a specific use in farming.
A piece of farm equipment that is pulled behind or mounted on to a tractor or other self-propelled farm equipment. Examples include ploughs, discs, wagons and cultivators.

Note: Throughout this document, where the term "tractor" is used it also refers to other self-propelled farm equipment.

General Responsibilities

  1. The employer shall provide information, instruction and supervision on how to safely operate a tractor.
  2. A tractor and all attachments used with it must be maintained in good condition. This includes ensuring that all safety devices are operational. Maintenance records should be kept.
  3. A tractor should be used for its intended purpose, as specified by the manufacturer and outlined in the operator's manual.
  4. If a tractor or any attachments are modified, the employer and the operator should take into account how the modifications affect the safe operation of the equipment.
  5. All safety decals attached to a tractor should be visible and free from obstructing material. Damaged or missing safety decals should be replaced with new ones if available.
  6. Only the operator should ride on a tractor while it is in use. If a tractor has a training seat, the seat should be used solely for that purpose.
  7. Children and other bystanders should be kept away from tractors while they are operating.

Factors to Consider When Operating a Tractor

The information in the rest of this section describes various hazards associated with using a tractor and recommends some precautions and preventive measures to be considered.


  1. The employer should ensure a worker operating a tractor is competent to do so.
  2. The employer should ensure that an operator:
    • understands and is able to apply the instructions in the operator's manual before using the tractor for the first time;
    • is able to recognize related hazards and knows how to control them.
  3. An operator should first practice using a tractor without any equipment attached to it, in a large, level area. A competent person should:
    • show the operator how to safely start the tractor and use each of the controls;
    • provide instructions from a safe distance while the tractor is operated.
  4. After an operator has learned to use the tractor alone in a level area, the next step is to learn to operate it with equipment attached. An operator should gradually work into the more complex jobs of tractor operation.

Before Starting a Tractor

  1. On a daily basis, the operator should conduct a circle check before starting the tractor.
  2. On a regular basis, before starting the tractor, the operator should make the maintenance checks listed below. Workers shall report any defects they are aware of to the employer or supervisor.
    • Lubricant and fuel levels.
    • Radiator fluid level--this should be done when the tractor is cold. Extreme care should be used if the level must be checked when the radiator is hot.
    • Tire pressure.
    • Hydraulic leaks.
    • Fittings--tighten any that are loose.
    • Lights--ensure all are working and visible.
  3. All shields and guards should be in place and operational.
  4. A worker operating a tractor should:
    • follow instructions printed on safety decals attached to the tractor;
    • keep safety decals clean and free from obstructing material.
  5. Before moving a tractor, the operator should ensure:
    • that wheel treads are set as wide apart as practical for the job;
    • there is clear visibility on all sides;
    • there is nothing in the tractor's intended path;
    • there are no hazards or obstructions such as overhead wires;
    • that the brakes work properly; and,
    • that, where applicable, brake pedals are locked together before traveling on a road.
  6. A tractor should not be run indoors for extended periods of time as toxic gases can build up. Exhaust gases contain carbon monoxide, which is odourless, colourless and deadly. If a tractor is to be used indoors, there should be adequate ventilation or exhaust gases should be vented directly to the outside.
  7. Proper techniques for mounting and dismounting equipment should be used to prevent slips and falls. The three point contact method should be used where possible. This involves maintaining contact with the machine with either two hands and one foot or two feet and one hand at all times while mounting or dismounting.

Operating a Tractor

Roll-Over Protective Structures (ROPS)

  1. Under the Farm Implements Act, all new tractors and all used tractors manufactured after January 1, 1992, with a manufacturer's rating higher than 20 horsepower, and sold by a dealer, must be equipped with a Roll-Over Protective Structure and a seatbelt.
  2. Where the danger of a roll-over exists, or when operating on a public roadway, a tractor should be equipped with a ROPS and a seatbelt should be worn.
  3. Tractors may be operated without ROPS in situations where it is not practical to do so. This includes situations where there is low overhead clearance, such as in orchards, farm buildings, greenhouses and other locations where low profile tractors are necessary for a particular task. Extra care should be taken when operating a tractor in these situations.

Preventing Tractor Roll-Overs

A number of factors can contribute to a tractor roll-over, including uneven ground, operating on an incline, excessive speed or operating with a front-end loader or with raised attachments. Following the steps below will help prevent tractor roll-overs.

  1. Tractor wheels should be kept as far apart as possible. A tractor will overturn sideways much more easily if the wheels are close together. When wheels must be moved in for narrow row farming, use extra precaution, especially when traveling at higher speeds on roads.
  2. Whenever possible, an operator should avoid driving the tractor near ditches, embankments, holes and on steep slopes.
  3. An operator should reduce speed before turning, when working on slopes, when using a loader and on rough, slick or muddy surfaces.
  4. A slope of more than 30 degrees can change the centre of gravity of a tractor. When working on a slope, to ensure greater stability, an operator should drive straight up or down the slope, not diagonally across it.

    When moving down a slope, an operator should:
    • shift to the lowest gear and keep the tractor in gear to prevent freewheeling and excessive braking;
    • never coast;
    • take extra care carrying heavy, high, swaying or unstable loads.
    When going up a slope, an operator should:
    • ensure that the centre of gravity stays in front of the point of contact between the rear wheels of the tractor and the ground;
    • try to back up if it is necessary to get up the incline;
    • use weights on the front of the tractor if necessary.
  5. Engage the clutch gently, especially when going uphill. "Jackrabbit" (sudden) starts are dangerous as the tractor may flip over.
  6. When operating a loader, keep it as close to the ground as possible.

General Precautions

  1. Disengage the Power Take-Off (PTO) when it is not in use. The power takeoff shield should be in place whenever equipment is in use.
  2. Never jump from a moving tractor or leave a running tractor unattended. The tractor could start rolling or moving and run over you.
  3. Do not wear loose clothing while operating a tractor. Loose clothing can catch on moving parts or levers and cause an accident.
  4. If stuck in mud, try to back out. If this does not work, get another tractor to pull you out. The tractor pulling you out should be of sufficient size and power to do the job and should have roll-over protection and a seatbelt.
  5. When parking a tractor, an operator should:
    • disengage the PTO;
    • lower equipment to the ground;
    • turn off the engine before getting off the tractor;
    • put the transmission into neutral or park;
    • set the brakes to prevent the tractor from rolling.
  6. Under the Highway Traffic Act, a person operating a farm tractor on a public roadway shall be at least 16 years old. A tractor operator must also follow all traffic rules when on public roads. This includes having proper lights, using hand signals, having a slow moving vehicle sign (SMV) and observing the right-of-way.


  1. When a tractor is used for pulling loads, the point of pull on the tractor should be the point specified by the manufacturer's instructions, and the weight of the load pulled must not exceed that specified by the manufacturer.
  2. Towed loads should only be hitched to the drawbar and at the manufacturer's recommended height.
  3. When using the three-point hitch, front weights should be added, as necessary, to maintain stability and prevent steering problems. Loads that are hitched too high can cause a tractor to flip backwards.
  4. Safety clips and pins designed for hitching should be used.
  5. Any chain or cable used to pull an object should be in good condition and adequate for its intended use, in particular, it should be able to sustain the load to be pulled without breaking.
  6. When a chain or cable is used to pull a load, any slack should be taken up slowly and there should be no loose chains dangling.


  1. All shields and guards should be in place and operational.
  2. Equipment should not be operated if shields or guards are missing.
  3. An operator should shut off the engine and be sure implement motion has stopped before performing any adjustments or maintenance.
  4. For some attachments, counterweights should be used for stability.
  5. An operator should raise any rear-mounted attachments and drive slowly when making sharp turns.
  6. An operator should raise and lower attachments slowly and smoothly.

Refueling the Tractor

The following steps will reduce the risk of a fire or explosion when refuelling a tractor.

  1. The tractor should be refuelled outside.
  2. Store fuel outside of buildings.
  3. The refuelling area should be free of flammable material.
  4. Ground out the tractor by dropping mounted equipment to the ground or by using a ground wire in order to reduce static electricity. Static electricity, a spark from the ignition system, or a hot exhaust could cause the fuel to ignite.
  5. An approved dry chemical extinguisher should be easily accessible while refuelling.
  6. Never refuel the tractor while the engine is running or hot.
  7. Do not smoke while refuelling.

Safety with Large Tractors

Safety precautions apply to both large and small tractors, but there are some special safety concerns when operating extremely large equipment. The employer has a duty to inform and instruct operators about the additional potential hazards.

Dimensions: The tractor's dimensions may cause difficulties in tight places, at corners and gates, and on narrow roadways. Overhead clearances, especially around power lines, may also cause a problem. An operator should be aware of the potential dangers. The weight of the unit should be considered when operating on small bridges, floors and flatbeds.

Steering: The unique steering systems of large 4-wheel-drive tractors can present handling problems. All-wheel steering can shift a towed device into an unexpected path. Articulated steering changes the tractor's center of gravity so that an overturn can occur unexpectedly. With articulated steering, high-speed road travel requires more operating skill than conventional tractors.

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