Guidance

Vehicles and machinery on farms

Health and safety issues and regulations for farm vehicles, machinery and equipment: risk assessments and good practice.

Introduction

Farming can be a hazardous occupation with its regular use of various types of vehicles, machinery and equipment. Many health and safety issues on a farm arise from vehicles and machinery, so it’s important that you know how to prevent potential problems.

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 established the principle that those who create risk are best placed to manage it. The Act led to the formation of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). The HSE works to help prevent injury, ill health and death to those at work, including employers, employees, self employed, contractors, suppliers and manufacturers.

This legislation states that if you employ workers on your farm you must ensure their safety. You must maintain safe work areas, practices and work systems, provide appropriate training and supervision, and not place the health and safety of any third party at risk. Your employees must also take reasonable care to avoid injury and not put the health and safety of any third party at risk.

This guide outlines the main health and safety information for the most common vehicles, machinery and equipment on the farm. It explains how the legislation applies to you, how to avoid any health and safety risks and outlines the hazards of using machinery.

The importance of purchasing CE marked vehicles

All farming vehicles, machinery and equipment must be safe to use, pose no hazard to your health and be appropriate for their specific jobs.

The Health and Safety at Work legislation requires that any new machine, vehicle or farming or forestry equipment you buy must be ‘CE’ marked. This mark means that each has been built to minimum legal safety requirements. They should also have a certificate of conformity, a workshop manual and any information on noise levels. If the noise levels are above acceptable legal levels, you should provide additional protection for those who will be using the machines.

Buying second-hand machines, vehicles or equipment

If you are planning to buy second-hand machines, you should check that:

  • tractors and machinery comply with the requirements within the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) - if they don’t, you must bring them up to the required standard before you use them
  • the operator’s manual is provided or that suitable information can be obtained
  • any missing or damaged safety guards can be replaced or repaired before using the machine

When you buy or hire machines, the law requires the supplier to provide necessary safeguards.

Download a guide to the PUWER 1998 from the HSE website (PDF, 158KB).

Download the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills’ Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 1992 (As Amended) guidance from the Agricultural Document Library website (PDF, 79K).

Maintaining farm vehicles and machinery

Whether you are self employed or employ people on your farm, you must make sure that all your equipment is properly repaired and in working order. You need to perform regular maintenance checks on all machinery - including brakes, hydraulic hoses and power take-off guards.

You can find useful equipment maintenance checklists on the British Agricultural and Garden Machinery Association (BAGMA) website.

Download vehicle health and trailed appliances checks checklists from the Department for Transport website (PDF, 795KB).

You should also be sure that anyone using farm equipment can operate it safely. They need to provide training and instruction for every piece of equipment they use.

Read more in the guide on agricultural skills, learning and training.

Avoiding accidents and health risks

There are a number of health risks when working with farming vehicles and machinery. Among these are:

  • slips and falls - eg caused by wearing improper footwear or working on slippery surfaces
  • fractured bones - eg caused by falls or overturned vehicles
  • amputations - eg caused by wearing improper or inappropriate clothing near machinery or failing to use safety equipment
  • head injuries - eg caused by overturned vehicles or faulty vehicle brakes
  • crushing injuries - eg caused by faulty brakes, vehicles that are not in proper gear, or overturning vehicles
  • contact with overhead electrical power lines - eg caused by working too close to power lines
  • fatal injuries

Download the five steps to risk assessment from the HSE website (PDF, 78KB) 

You can avoid accidents and health risks by strictly following good practices. These are not compulsory, but you may find them helpful in considering them in all of your farming activities:

  • make sure that all machinery is properly maintained and repaired
  • wear suitable clothing and footwear, namely safety boots
  • read and understand the instruction manual of any machinery you are going to use
  • tie back long hair
  • remove any jewellery that can be caught in machinery
  • wear a seat belt - this is a legal requirement
  • make sure the machine’s handbrake is applied
  • use ‘safe stop’ when necessary - ie handbrake is on, controls are on neutral, engine is stopped, key is removed
  • keep machinery clean and mud-free
  • remove loose tools and other pieces of equipment from inside cabs
  • check for any bystanders and children when manoeuvring or operating machinery
  • do not work near low-hanging power lines
  • be familiar with the ground you’re working on

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 requires that you:

  • ensure - as far as reasonably possible - the health, safety and welfare of your employees and any others who may be affected by what your employees do
  • carry out a risk assessment if you are an employer
  • establish a carefully prepared action plan on health and safety that’s specific to your farm
  • organise your workers through communication, co-operation, competence and control
  • plan and set standards to be sure that your health and safety practices work
  • check how you’re doing through regular inspections and monitoring, and by acting on any problems should they occur

Download the five steps to risk assessment from the HSE website (PDF, 78KB)

Read a guide to health and safety in agriculture on the HSE website (PDF, 1.17MB)

Hazards with farm equipment

Farming vehicles, equipment and machinery can be hazardous if proper use and maintenance practices aren’t followed.

Mowers

There are numerous hazards when using rotary and flail mowers. These include:

  • flying debris from the mower
  • flying blades, flails or attachments
  • moving drive mechanisms
  • moving blades or flails
  • clearing blockages while the machine is moving
  • working underneath a raised machine when replacing blades or carrying out maintenance
  • crushing hazards when moving the mower between the work and transport positions
  • overturning when mowing slopes and banks

In order to avoid hazards, you should:

  • be sure that operators of the mower have read and understood the instruction book
  • remember that conditioners and other parts are dealt with to the same standard as the rest of the mower
  • be sure that all guards are correctly fitted and in position
  • make sure that skirts or other parts designed to prevent projectiles are well maintained
  • disengage all controls and stop the engine before leaving the tractor seat
  • be careful when working on steep ground
  • support machines whenever you’re working underneath them
  • use protective gloves when changing blades

Download information about the safe use of agricultural mowers from the HSE website (PDF, 256KB) 

Round balers

There are numerous hazards that come from the use of round balers. These include:

  • being pulled into the chamber at the pick-up area
  • being pulled into the pressure rollers or other parts of the machine when attempting to rethread the baler
  • becoming entangled by a poorly guarded power take-off shaft
  • getting trapped by parts of the transmission or other moving machinery on the baler

In order to avoid hazards, you should:

  • always do a ‘safe stop’ - the handbrake is on, controls are in neutral and the engine is stopped
  • be sure that all guards are in place, correctly fitted and secure before you begin work
  • make sure those who will be using the baler are properly trained in its use and have read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions
  • always have baler work as part of your safety policy, particularly for clearing blockages and rethreading the machine
  • spread out any large clumps of hay

Manufacturers and suppliers have responsibilities under the Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 1992 (as amended) (SMSR) and Section 6 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 to supply an adequately guarded machine. They should also consider BS EN ISO 4254-1 and BS EN 704.

Download information about the safe use of round balers from the HSE website (PDF, 51K).

Combine harvesters

There are numerous hazards involving the use of combine harvesters - also known as ‘combines’. These include:

  • getting tangled in the levelling or discharge augers in the grain tank
  • coming in contact with overhead power lines (OHPLs)
  • falling from the combine
  • being run over
  • coming in contact with the stripper rotor, reel, knife, straw chopper or spreader
  • getting trapped under the header or by the header falling from its trailer
  • getting injured by the drive mechanisms
  • becoming ill from dust exposure or noise

In order to avoid hazards on the combine harvester, you should:

  • always do a ‘safe stop’ - the handbrake is on, controls are in neutral and the engine is stopped
  • be sure to remove the ignition key before entering the grain tank or working behind, under or inside the machine
  • make sure that anyone operating the combine has read and understood its instruction book
  • perform pre-season maintenance checks
  • make sure that all guards are in position and correctly fitted
  • regularly clean any straw or chaff deposits
  • have a safe system of work for areas containing OHPLs
  • follow safe procedures when working with the cutting knives, under the header and when moving the header on and off its trailers
  • work with the cab door shut to control noise and dust
  • take care when reversing
  • wear slip-resistant footwear and no loose clothing
  • carry a suitable fire extinguisher

Manufacturers and suppliers of combine harvesters have responsibilities under the Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 1992 (as amended) or Section 6 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 to supply adequately guarded machines. They should also consider BS EN ISO 4254-1 and BS EN 632.

Download information about the safe use of combine harvesters from the HSE website (PDF, 53KB)

Forager harvesters

There are several hazards that are associated with using forager harvesters - also known as ‘foragers’. These can include:

  • coming into contact with the exposed rotating cutterhead while sharpening
  • coming into contact with the moving drive mechanisms
  • coming into contact with OHPLs
  • becoming trapped or injured by the header
  • clearing blockages when the machine is still moving
  • coming into contact with silage additives
  • the sharpening stone being broken or thrown from the machine
  • vibration and noise

You should:

  • make sure that all workers operating the forager have read and understood the instruction book
  • make sure that all guards are fitted properly and in the correct position
  • follow the manufacturer’s directions when sharpening knives
  • check the locations of any OHPLs before you start work
  • wear protective clothing - including safety goggles
  • use the reversing mechanism to move any blockages in the chutes
  • follow specific procedures for clearing blockages in the chutes

Manufacturers and suppliers have responsibilities under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (the HSW Act) and the Supply of Machinery (Safety) Regulations 1992 (as amended in 1994). They should also consider BS EN 292 and BS EN 632 which specifically deals with forage harvesters.

Download information about the safe use of forage harvesters from the HSE website (PDF, 79KB)

Potato harvesters

There are a number of hazards that are associated with using potato harvesters. These can include:

  • falling from access ladders and platforms
  • being run over
  • getting caught in haulm - potato stems - and cleaning rollers
  • getting caught in elevator chains or conveyors
  • getting caught by drive mechanisms
  • getting caught around the power take-off shaft
  • not switching off all power sources
  • poor handling of bags of potatoes
  • poor working positions causing muscle strains, etc

You should:

  • make sure that all users of the harvester understand the safety instructions, including how to clean the machine
  • pre-plan a system of communication between the tractor driver and the platform
  • be sure that all rollers are properly guarded and fitted with extra guards if anyone can reach the rollers with arms or legs from any position
  • take care when reversing
  • stop the tractor engine and put the ignition key in your pocket before you do any work on the harvester, including clearing any blockages

Download information about the safe use of potato harvesters from the HSE website (PDF, 373KB)

Flail hedge cutters

There are numerous hazards that are associated with using flail hedge cutters. These can include:

  • being hit by flying debris or loose machine parts
  • other people being hit by flying debris of machine parts
  • coming into contact with moving parts
  • getting hit by the cutting head or machine arm as it’s moving
  • coming into contact with OHPLs
  • road traffic accidents from collisions or road debris
  • getting trapped between the tractor and the machine when hitching or unhitching
  • overbalancing of tractor or machine

Download information about the safe use of rotary flail hedge cutters from the HSE website (PDF, 79K)

Dangerous parts of tractors and other equipment

Farming vehicles, equipment and machinery can be hazardous if proper use and maintenance practices aren’t followed.

For example, if you are operating a tractor, you need to:

  • make sure that the power take-off (PTO) shaft guards are made to a recognised standard - such as BS EN ISO 5674 - and of the correct size and length when closed and when extended
  • be sure that the guards are of a non-rotating type, and have a restraining device - such as securing chains that are properly in place and secured
  • be certain that guards are cleaned and lubricated at regular intervals and ensure that they are capable of providing proper protection
  • ensure that the PTO is supported when not connected - it should not be rested on the drawbar or suspended by the restraining device
  • not use adaptors to allow a spline 1,000 rotations per minute (rpm) shaft to drive a six-spline 540rpm shaft

Download a guide on PTOs and PTO drive shafts from the HSE website (PDF, 181KB).

When dealing with other dangerous machine parts, you need to:

  • be sure that safeguards are strong enough and securely attached to the machine
  • make sure that they are self-locking or need a tool to open them
  • ensure that they are made of the correct materials - eg no plastic because it can be easily damaged
  • check and maintain them on a regular basis

Download a step-by-step farm machinery safety guide from the HSE website (PDF, 85K).

Health and Safety at Work legislation

Health and safety concerns on your farm require you to adhere to several regulations.

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 establishes the general duties that you have towards your employees and members of the public. It also covers those duties that your employees have towards themselves and each other. The law requires that you practice good management and common sense, identify risks and take reasonable measures. The Act applies to every work activity undertaken on your farm.

Download the five steps to risk assessment from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) website (PDF, 106K).

PUWER requires that risks to people’s health and safety from equipment used at work be controlled or prevented.

The equipment covered includes:

  • hammers
  • ladders
  • knives
  • circular saws
  • drilling machines
  • power presses
  • motor vehicles
  • dumper trucks
  • lifting equipment
  • employees’ own equipment

There is also an additional requirement from the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER) for any lifting equipment that’s used.

Download a guide to the PUWER 1998 from the HSE website (PDF, 158KB).

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (the Management Regulations) make even more clear what you are required to do to manage health and safety under the Health and Safety at Work Act. This regulation also applies to every work activity on your farm. Its main requirement is that you must conduct a risk assessment and if you have five or more employees, you must record any significant findings.

Download the five steps to risk assessment from the HSE website (PDF, 106KB).

You can also read the guide on managing the risks in your business.

SMSR places responsibility on those who supply any machinery and safety components. These include manufacturers, importers and others in the supply chain. Requirements for the equipment must be met before any items can be supplied in the UK. This includes:

  • conformity assessments
  • declaration of conformity
  • CE marking

LOLER requires that any lifting equipment used at work for lifting and lowering loads is:

  • strong and stable enough for the particular use
  • marked to indicate safe working loads
  • used safely by competent people who have planned and organised the work properly
  • positioned and installed properly to minimise risks

The responsibility for enforcing PUWER, LOLER and SMSR is divided between the HSE and local authorities. In the event of a breach in a health and safety regulation - even if a risk assessment has been carried out - you may receive a large fine and possibly even serve a prison sentence if the breach is severe enough. In most instances, it is the local authority that would prosecute the breach.

Further information on vehicles and machinery on farms

Further information on vehicles, machinery and equipment on farms is available in other guides on this website and from a number of organisations.

The role of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is to help prevent injury, ill heath and death to those at work, whether they are employers, employees, self employed, contractors, suppliers or manufacturers. It is a non-departmental body and is responsible for the encouragement, regulation and enforcement of workplace health, safety and welfare. Find advice about workplace health and safety on the HSE website.

One of the major roles of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is to help the farming industry operate as efficiently as possible. Defra administers European support policies that provide around £3 billion to UK agriculture. They also oversee a number of agencies that work with arable farmers, imports and exports of crops and implement pest and disease controls. You can call the Defra Helpline on 08459 33 55 77.

In England, the Farm Advisory System advises farmers about cross compliance. For further information, call the Cross Compliance Helpline on Tel 0845 345 1302. Alternatively, find information on cross compliance requirement on the Cross Compliance website.

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) represents the farmers and growers of England and Wales. It aims to promote successful and socially responsible agriculture and horticulture, while ensuring the long-term viability of rural communities.

You can read about the work of the NFU on their website.

Farmers are likely to come into contact with local authorities over a number of farming, land use, food standards and environmental regulations. Your local authority may also be able to provide further information or resources.

Local authorities may also be involved with the HSE. Farmers may come into contact with their local authority over a variety of regulatory issues surrounding farming, land use, food standards, environmental and health and safety. Your local authority may also be able to provide further information or resources.

Here’s how we made controlled traffic farming work

Edward Dale

Natural England

Edward’s top tips:

  • “Basically it means that every time we go into a field we are going down the same wheeling.”
  • “We’ve reduced the amount of the time we are in the field now, and there’s more land for direct drilling.”
  • “Diesel usage has gone from 120 litres a hectare down to around 60 litres a hectare.”

Edward Dale is an arable and combinable crop farmer from Lincolnshire. Here he outlines the benefits of controlled traffic farming: water soaks through the ground better, increased yeilds, less fuel usage, less time establishing a crop and more fertile soil.

Further information

Cross Compliance Helpline

0845 345 1302

Defra Helpline

08459 33 55 77

Download the provision and use of work equipment regulations (PUWER) 1998 guidance from the HSE website (PDF, 158K)

Download a guide to using tractors safely from the HSE website (PDF, 1.37MB)

Download a guide to health and safety in agriculture from the HSE website (PDF 1.17MB)

Download a health and safety regulation guide from the HSE website (PDF, 347K)

Download the five steps to risk assessment from the HSE website (PDF, 78K)

Download vehicle health and trailed appliances checks checklists from the Department for Transport website (PDF, 795K)

Download a carriage of passengers on farm trailers information sheet from the HSE website (PDF, 36K)

Download safe working near overhead power lines guidance from the HSE website (PDF, 456K)

Download practical advice on avoiding agricultural transport accidents from the HSE website (PDF, 869K)

Download agricultural mowers safety guidance from the HSE website (PDF, 257K)

Download round balers safety guidance from the HSE website (PDF 51K)

Download combine harvesters safety guidance from the HSE website (PDF, 53K)

Download forage harvesters safety guidance from the HSE website (PDF, 79K)

Download potato harvesters safety guidance from the HSE website (PDF, 373K)

Download rotary flail hedge cutters safety information from the HSE website (PDF, 79K)

Download PTO and PTO drive shafts guidance from the HSE website (PDF, 181K)

Download a step-by-step farm machinery safety guide from the HSE website (PDF, 85K)

Cross compliance requirements information on the Cross Compliance website

NFU work and services information on the NFU website

Published 10 September 2012