Row Of Green and Red Tractors

Five common causes of PTO accidents

Chris Olive, inspector for South West insurer Cornish Mutual says power take off safety is every farmer’s responsibility.

Every year, people are sadly killed or injured in accidents involving tractor power take offs (PTOs) and PTO shafts that drive machinery towed behind a tractor.

In just one second, a PTO can wrap an arm or leg around a shaft nine times. A PTO rotates so fast that you have no time to react, so, the key is to prevent accidents from happening in the first place, by following safety advice.

Cornish Mutual has been raising awareness of the issue at health and safety events for farmers across the region. When we started talking about PTO shafts at these events, I was shocked by how many members of the audience said they knew someone who had been injured in a PTO shaft accident, or had a lucky escape.

There have been several high profile cases involving clothing or long hair getting caught in shafts. While it is good practice to avoid putting yourself at risk by tying back hair, removing any jewellery and wearing overalls, these accidents can happen to anyone. A PTO rotates so fast that it could suck you in, if you’re within half an inch of it.

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) emphasises that most of these accidents are preventable if the PTO and PTO drive shaft are properly maintained and fitted with guards. The HSE also warns that “broken, damaged or badly fitting guards can be just as dangerous as no guard at all.”

We ask all our Members to verify that their machinery is in good working order and has proper guards in place. Of course, if you employ staff on your farm, it is vitally important they are trained to safely work with PTOs and PTO drive shafts.

The biggest cause of these types of accidents is when the PTO has no cover, or the cover is damaged or ill-fitting. Some PTO shafts are designed so you have to remove the cover for cleaning or maintenance, which means there is a risk of farmers forgetting to replace the cover, or even misplacing it.

PTO shaft covers are plastic, so they can easily get damaged or simply degrade over time. Some farmers try to avoid buying a replacement cover, instead repairing it with tape or cable ties. A broken cover is just as bad as having no guard at all and replacement covers are usually fairly inexpensive.

PTO guards should be checked on a daily basis for wear, damage and to ensure they are secure. Guards need to cover the top and both sides of the PTO so that people are fully protected. They should be the correct size for the shaft when closed or extended and enclose the full length of the drive shaft from the tractor to the first bearing of the machine, taking into account the shaft’s vertical and lateral movement during work.  

Farmers should never try to clear blockages on machinery whilst the PTO shaft is turning.  It is also important to switch the tractor off and remove the key from the ignition when working with or near the PTO shaft.

We recommend carrying out a risk assessment at the beginning of period of use. This can sound like a daunting prospect and something that isn’t a priority when there are more urgent matters to attend to. However, a risk assessment does not need to be complicated or time consuming. In the case of any farm machinery, it is simply a matter of checking the guard is in place, undamaged and correctly fitted. Many people will also grease the shaft joint. It is good practice to make and keep a record of this inspection.

Accidents caused by PTO shafts are often very serious indeed, but they are almost always preventable.