This month started with the unfortunate death of a Wisconsin farmer from entanglement in the power take-off (pto) of a manure spreader.

“This is already the second farm-related fatality involving machinery operation for the year,” says Cheryl Skjolaas, University of Wisconsin (UW) Extension agriculture safety specialist. “In the past two years there were three additional pto-related fatalities.”

At full power a pto driveline operates at 540 or 1,000 rpm, depending on the tractor. That means the driveline makes nine or 16.6 revolutions per second, respectively. A person’s reaction time cannot beat that speed.

“If an operator doesn’t wait for a pto driveline to stop rotating before working around a pto, the operator is still at risk” says Skjolaas. “Even at a quarter power, as little as a piece of string can be all it takes for an operator to become entangled in a pto. The whole pto driveline is a wrapping point hazard from the tractor stub to the implement connection.”

She provides these recommendations for working safely with implement pto drivelines:

  • Keep all shields and guards in place and in good repair on the tractor and implements.
  • Disengage the pto, turn off the tractor engine and wait for the pto to completely stop before making adjustments or repairs, or when connecting or disconnecting the driveline.
  • Avoid wearing loose, torn or bulky clothing around the pto or any other moving parts.
  • Be extra cautious when using stationary equipment, such as augers or elevators, with the pto in operation.
  • Always walk around the equipment to avoid being near the pto. Stepping over, leaning across, or crawling under an operating pto can easily lead to an entanglement.
  • Keep all bystanders away from pto-driven equipment and never allow children to be in the area around the equipment.
  • Check the drawbar for proper adjustment when hooking up pto-driven equipment.
  • Never use nails, cotter pins, or long bolts on the driveline. Any protrusion can catch your clothing and entangle you.

For additional information on the safe operation of implements with power take-offs, check the operator’s manual.

If you employ non-family workers to operate machinery, OSHA machine guarding standard 1928.57 requires employers to provide employees with training prior to assignment or annually. This would also be a good time to check all shields and guards on implements and cover all aspects of safe machinery operation with all operators, says Skjolaas.

More information on agricultural safety and health can be found at http://fyi.uwex.edu/agsafety or contact the UW Center for Agricultural Safety and Health at 608-265-0568.