Stay Safe on a Farm

Many people who have never lived or worked on a farm tend to think that the farm is a safer place than being out on the street at night or driving on the road. Yet, no amount of romanticizing about farm life undoes the fact that farms are dangerous places for the unaware, with many dangers and hazards affecting people of any age.

The one most shocking statistic is that farming is actually one of the most dangerous occupations.[1] Many things can go wrong on a farm and often do, resulting in injury, or fatalities. The risk of injury or death is especially high if a person is not careful, lacks the ability to monitor his or her level of fatigue, or gets complacent when performing certain tasks on a farm. Horror stories abound of traumatizing events such as getting caught up in farm machinery or being trampled on or kicked by livestock. Sadly, many relate to children, such as dying by suffocation in a grain bin, getting run over by a tractor, or having a gate or something similar fall on them.

If you're new to farming or you want to educate children or newcomers to the farm about farm safety, this article will be of help. Read it thoroughly so that you understand what it takes to stay safe on a farm.

Note: These steps are not necessarily sequential; rather, they're to be taken as a whole when upgrading your safety knowledge.


  1. Recognize the hazards of farming in general. Such hazards come in many forms and are not always easy to spot. Each will be looked at in detail in subsections below, but in general, here are some areas that have the potential to create dangerous situations:
    • Equipment operation. Only experienced individuals should operate farm equipment and machinery.
    • Environmental hazards. Farming involves outdoor activities that can cause serious injury or death in certain situations.
    • Chemical hazards. Chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides are dangerous to both the individual applying them, to others who may be exposed, and to wildlife.
    • Natural hazards. Farming may be undertaken in hostile environments where dangerous wildlife or hazardous geographical features may be encountered. In some cases, such as abandoned mine shafts now forming part of farming land, human-made hazards may also be present.
  2. Understand the nature of specific hazards you may experience when farming, and use precautions to decrease the risk of injury when working around these hazards.
  3. Prepare an emergency plan for potential hazards, ranging from evacuation and escape routes, to response to chemical spills, injuries, and other events. Place this plan somewhere prominent where all relevant farm workers and inhabitants can access it. Use language and symbols that make it clear to everyone what is expected.
  4. Have an emergency communication plan in place. Include contact information for local emergency responders, and communication capabilities between workers, family members, and neighbors where it is practical. Keep the contact details near phones and other forms of communication devices for ease of use in emergencies.
  5. Have a well-stocked emergency response kit, including first aid supplies, food, water, flashlights, a weather radio, and other items that may help you survive an emergency situation. A checklist of what to do in particular situations can be helpful for keeping calm heads.
  6. Remember Murphy's Law: Anything bad that can happen, will happen.

Equipment Safety

  1. Maintain all equipment in good working condition. Failure of brakes, steering linkages, or Power Take-Off (PTO) connections can cause injury or death in seconds. If you are not able to maintain your own equipment, have it inspected periodically by a mechanic. It might save a life, but at the very least, it will likely prevent costly breakdowns.
  2. Train all equipment operators in general operating procedures for each machine, and specific safety items for individual pieces of equipment. Make sure all individuals operating a machine know how to engage and disengage moving parts, and that they keep all guards and safety features in place both during and after use.
  3. Avoid using equipment in poor working conditions such as low light, low visibility, or when you are too tired to operate equipment safely. Do not operate dangerous farm machinery when you are taking medications that may impair you, such as allergy or cold medicine, or prescription pain relievers. These often have a warning label, and the warning is there for a reason.
  4. Keep people who are not actively assisting in the operation of your equipment well away from the activity. Do not let individuals ride on fenders, drawbars, or other attachments not meant for riding on. A sudden fall could result in someone being run over, or a person falling into a cutting attachment, a running PTO shaft, or any other moving mechanical part.
  5. Be where the operator can see you, whether he or she is on a tractor, on a swather/windrower or in a combine. Nothing's worse than you standing where someone who is operating a machine in close proximity to you does not know where you are. Make sure that the operator makes eye contact with you to verify that he or she has indeed noticed you. If this is not possible, move into an area where the operator will see you, either by mirrors or by moving out of their blind-spot. If it's not possible, stay away until it's safe to go near.
  6. Never climb nor reach over a running/spinning PTO shaft. Always walk around the machine to get to the other side. If you have to work in the area where the PTO shaft is, turn off everything first or ensure that the tractor is out of gear (where the unit where the PTO hooks up is not spinning), before working in that particular area.
  7. Always make sure the tractor and/or machine is turned off before you climb in to fix or have a look at something.
  8. Check that the machine you are about to turn on is in the Neutral or Park position. Also, be aware of what's around you before you turn the machine on or start moving or even operation. See the "Special Children Rules" below for safety rules for children around machinery.
  9. When operating machinery, always keep an eye out for things that are beside and behind you, not just on what's in front of you.
  10. Do not wear loose clothing or wear your hair loose when working around moving mechanical parts. You will easily get caught up and even sucked up into the machine before you even knew what happened. Survivability of such accidents is extremely rare. Most people who survive from such an event often die of traumatic shock shortly after.
    • Always keep shovels, pant legs, sleeves, collars, loose hair, etc., away from a running auger or PTO shaft or any other moving machinery part.
    • Wear proper clothing when working around and with machinery and working with animals. You should never operate machinery or work with farm animals in high-heels or loafers. Safety boots, tight or regular-fit work-type blue jeans, a shirt and a jacket, as well as gloves and a hat, are the best for working on the farm. Overalls or coveralls are also ideal.
  11. Never get over-confident that hydraulics will always work and keep in place, because they can and will fail. A loader bucket can suddenly come crashing down on you if such a thing occurs. This will most likely happen if one of the hydraulic rams (or hoses) are worn to the point where they may fail soon, or a hydraulic hose is improperly connected.
  12. Realize that farm machinery is not a toy. Never ever let a child climb up in a tractor by him- or herself and expect the child to know that anything he or she pushes or pulls won't cause the tractor to move or start to operate. If necessary, remove the keys from the ignition when the machine is not in operation. You may even want to consider locking the doors as well if it's imperative.
  13. Never step in the area where grain is being fed out by an auger. You could get caught up in the auger shaft by doing so. People have lost legs, arms or feet doing such a thing, and sometimes die just from the shock alone.
  14. Always watch the power lines, especially with transporting augers or any other tall equipment. All farm machinery can conduct electricity when it comes into contact with power lines, resulting in the operator sustaining serious or fatal injuries from electrocution. Always ask yourself, "Where's the line?."

Environmental Hazards

  1. Understand that weather is a special concern to farmers, both in the respect to its effect on crop/livestock production, and as a potential danger to individuals who may be working in a remote area.
  2. Watch weather forecasts before going to remote areas that are prone to flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes or mudslides. When severe lightning is in the forecast, be prepared to head to safety immediately if storms are moving into your area.
  3. Stay out of danger during thunderstorms. If a sudden storm catches you in the field, find a low (but not flood-prone) area away from features that might attract lightning, or get in a vehicle if possible.
  4. Do not work on exposed conductive equipment like wire fences or grain augers during a thunderstorm.
  5. Dress suitably for the weather conditions you are working in. Cold weather requires sufficiently layered clothing to allow you to remain warm without becoming too warm, and often, the temperature will rise significantly as the day progresses, so dressing in layers will allow you to remove enough clothing to remain comfortable.
  6. Be aware of frostbite dangers in extreme cold. Protecting your fingers and toes, as well as your face, is important in very cold weather.
  7. Do not work beyond your ability in extreme heat. Keep hydrated, and take frequent breaks when the temperature soars. Also, when working in barns or other poorly ventilated structures, rig a fan or other means of supplying fresh air before undertaking your task.
  8. Be aware of fire dangers in your area. Farm equipment may not be able to outrun a quickly spreading wildfire, and occasionally, an equipment malfunction may spark a fire, especially in dry fields ready for harvest.
  9. Respect the daylight hours. When you have a busy schedule and have tasks that need immediate attention, there is a temptation to push too hard, making it necessary to travel with poor visibility or even in total darkness. If your equipment is not equipped with field lights, shut it down before nightfall. Also consider your own level of fatigue and don't push beyond it.

Chemical Hazards

  1. Learn all that you can about the chemicals you intend to use in your farming operation. Almost all industries require a log to be kept of chemicals used onsite, and their Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS). This will enable you to respond to accidents appropriately.
  2. Store chemicals and pesticides and other hazardous materials away in a locked secure area. Chemical spills are not only hazardous to the environment, but to humans, pets and livestock as well.
  3. Keep all chemicals in labeled containers designed for the specific chemical used. Even gasoline and diesel can be deadly if kept in an unsuitable container.
  4. Do not store reactive chemicals where they will be exposed to extreme temperatures or conditions. Even common fertilizers can be explosive in certain extreme circumstances.
  5. Have a fire extinguisher available near all flammable materials, and make sure it is the proper type for the respective fire hazard. Have each extinguisher checked yearly and updated as needed.
  6. When using chemicals, clean up after each use. Wash your hands thoroughly before going to your next chore, dispose of excess chemicals responsibly, and never smoke or eat while working with chemicals.
  7. Inspect all chemical containers periodically to make sure their expiration dates have not passed, and that their containers are not leaking or corroded.

Natural Hazards

  1. Know what to expect from Mother Nature where you are farming. A rattlesnake bite in a remote area can be fatal, and some areas have populations of dangerous carnivores like bear, cougar, or wolves. In the southern U.S., alligators may be found in small farm ponds, and dangerous spiders, scorpions, or other hazards should be considered as possible hazards, especially around wood piles, stacked items or anywhere the creatures are likely to make a home.
  2. Respect even the smallest insects. Allergic reactions from bee stings or ant bites can result in shock in a matter of minutes, and mosquitoes or other biting pests may spread disease.
  3. Be prepared for these types of hazards with appropriate equipment when working a remote area alone. This might mean a firearm to fend off an attacking predator, or carrying an Epipen to treat an allergic reaction. It's a good idea to let other workers know if you have allergies, in case they need to help administer treatments in an emergency.
  4. Remember that each region of the world has its own threats to safety. If you're not already aware of the possible hazards, talk to local people who are experienced in dealing with nature in your area about dangers you may encounter.

Man-made Hazards

  1. Be alert to the potential for hazards on your farm created by previous owners. If you're new to the farm, you may not know of the problems until something happens. Ask when purchasing the property and do a thorough check upon purchase to find any such hazards. If there are any, take appropriate measures to guard against them. Such examples include:
    • Holes in the ground. From old mines to pits dug to dispose of dead livestock, holes in the ground can be a hazard especially if they have been covered and collapse in.
    • Garbage tossed into dams and other water bodies. The junk in the water might not be obvious until a boat or swimmer gets snagged on it. Worse still, there may be chemicals leaching into the water that are contaminating it.
    • Ruins of buildings. They might look romantic but they're lack of upkeep makes them potentially hazardous to all who wander near them.
    • Garbage tips filled with old chemical containers.
  2. Reduce the impact of man-made hazards where possible. Remove hazards that can be removed, such as demolishing unstable buildings and walls, disposing of chemical containers (get hazardous waste expert advice), filling holes, etc. Fence off hazards that cannot be removed, such as holes in the ground too deep to fill. Warning signs can help alert people to stay away from dangers––include visual symbols too for those unable to read.

Livestock Safety

  1. Never trust a bull. Even though horses are known to kill more humans than bulls, the most docile bulls tend to be the most dangerous, because you won't know when they will suddenly turn on you.
    • Never make a pet out of a bull. Bottle-fed bulls tend to be the most dangerous, or any bull calf that has been made into a pet or "humanized", like dogs and cats often get treated. In making a pet out of a bull calf, you are unknowingly teaching it to connect more readily with humans than with other cattle. Thus "bull people" or "bull humans" are confused bulls, quite often feeling that they have to assert their dominance over humans and interact with humans, not others of their kind. This is what makes them dangerous.
      • "Pet" bulls that are made into pets but treated with respect and like they are bovines, not humans, can still pose a threat just like any other bovine, but less-so than a bull that thinks it is a human.
    • Cows shouldn't be trusted either, especially around calving time. A cow can get aggressive around her new calf if you are not careful nor respectful of what she's trying to communicate to you.
  2. Take care when handling horses. Horses are actually the most dangerous livestock animal, with more accidents and deaths occurring around these magnificent, dramatic animals than the horror stories involved with charging bulls or angry, over-protective cows.
    • If riding, know how to ride. Always pay attention to good horse handling practices, such as staying in the horse's sight, not walking behind a horse within kicking range or provoking a horse with unfamiliar things.
  3. Be careful around all livestock. Any other livestock animal can pose a danger to injury to a person if the person is not careful, respectful or considerate of how they treat or handle those animals. Turning any farm animal of medium to large size into a pet brings risks for the same reasons described above––for example, pet sheep have been known to chase and knock over smaller humans, hurting them and trampling on them. Always be cautious, calm and gradual around animals.

General Safety Practices

  1. Never get complacent around machinery or livestock, as complacency is also a killer of many farmers and members of farm families. Complacency occurs when a person is working from routine, not staying alert to the possible dangers. Building up a false sense of security and trust around activities, animals and tools is dangerous because the unknown can always happen in a moment and your reaction time depends on your staying alert. When an accident happens out of complacency, it is because a person has not been proactive about watching for certain signs that things aren't going as they should be.
  2. Always let someone know where you are, where you are going to be, and what time you expect to be back. This can be a bit hard to do when you are one to work by yourself, but not so if you have someone you are living with to rely on to communicate this to. If you are alone, try texting or emailing a neighboring farmer and doing the same in return––create a buddy system of looking out for each other.
  3. Do not overestimate your strength and speed when handling both machinery and livestock. You don't know how fast you are nor what your reaction time is until you've had something happen to you that tests it, sometimes with bad consequences. Always assume that you're underestimating the dangers, so as to overcompensate with care.
  4. Always have an escape route. This is especially important when handling potentially dangerous animals such as bulls or freshening cows.
  5. Wear eye/ear/foot/respiratory protection when and where possible. For example, protection is necessary when handling chemicals like pesticides, insecticides and fungicides. For the sake of respiratory health, cover your mouth and nose whenever dust or fine particles are likely to occur, such as when shoveling grain in a near-empty grain bin, raking over old crop stubble or cleaning out stalls of dried manure, etc.
  6. Be aware of your state of mind. If you are feeling tired, stop what you're doing and go have a coffee break or a short nap. Fatigue tends to be the number one cause in farm accidents and farm accident fatalities and serious injuries. A nap is a good way to refresh and still get plenty of hours out of the day.
  7. Use your common sense! Often it's better to listen to your gut instinct instead of your intellect. If you are second guessing yourself, chances are it's not worth the risk to take.

Special Child Safety Precautions

  1. Talk to children about hazards. Don't leave this to chance or hope. Children living on farms need to be aware of the possible dangers from an early age and talking about the hazards will help them to grasp the importance of taking care.
  2. Teach children to keep you informed. If a child wants to spend time with you but likes to wander off, make it a rule that the child always lets you know first. Teach the child to wait patiently until you have answered before leaving. Sometimes children can grow bored while you're mid activity, so making it clear that the child must wait is vital.
  3. Keep children away from grain bins. Never let children play in or near a grain bin with grain in it, no matter if it's full or not. Children have died from suffocation when falling into grain bins, as the grain shifts over them like a funnel.
  4. Supervise children when they are near machinery, loose gates or panels or livestock. Never allow a child to play in an area where it's unsafe and make it clear that play occurs in distinct places, such as the backyard, a purpose-build playground area or in the house. Beyond these areas, make it clear that play is out-of-bounds and that unless the child is helping under supervision, the child must stay put and watch or go back to the house.
    • Farmyards, corrals, stock pens, drenching areas, runs, etc. should all be out-of-bounds to children unless they are helping you under direct supervision.
    • If children lack farm safety knowledge, make the time to teach them.
  5. Keep children at a safe distance when starting or operating machinery. Children should never be close by or in an area that is a blind spot to you or they are at serious risk of injury or death. Children that are around machinery that is to be operated must be made to stand where you can see then when you start up machinery, be in an area where they are not at risk of being run over, and stay in that area until it is clear to move. Preferably children, especially those under 7 years of age, should be at least {{safesubst:#invoke:convert|convert}} away from any sort of operating machinery, or even not in vicinity to begin with!
  6. Be aware that all terrain vehicles are dangerous for children. Many children riding ATVs have been injured or killed on farms when these vehicles roll over on uneven terrain or crash due to poor handling. Even with your guidance, an ATV ride can be dangerous for a child whose smaller body weight can result in being crushed by an overturned ATV. Make sure that children on such vehicles are wearing helmets that fit, are under your direct supervision and are not going fast.


  • If you have children, quiz them on what sort of dangers they see or should be looking for on a farm. Reward them for knowing the right answers and encourage learning when they don't know.
  • Be aware of your surroundings. It's too easy to get distracted with a job you're working on and not maintain awareness of what else is going on around you.
  • Always be aware of your level of fatigue and complacency. If you're feeling tired, just stop what you're doing and take a little break. It does help, and will save you too.
  • Dangers are not always obvious. Often it simply takes a little bit of studying, gaining another farmer's opinion or a walk-around the farm to spot any potential dangers.


  • The farm is a dangerous place, without a doubt. If you're not one who can work in such an environment or lack the common sense or self-awareness that it takes to work or operate a farm, farming may not be for you.

Related Articles