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A drivers guide to driving in the UK
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Guide to using Tractors Safely
A step-by-step guide to using tractors safely and how to overcome some of the health and safety risks while operating them.

Step 1 Before starting
Step 2 In position
Step 3 Under power

Step 4 Driving
Step 5 Other people
Step 6 Hitching

Step 7 Other machines and trailers
Step 8 Overhead power lines
Step 9 Overturning


This step-by-step guide to tractor safety is for everyone who uses a tractor or tractor-operated machinery. It applies to those working in farming, forestry, horticulture, amenity horticulture and the sports turf industry. Whether you are a student, a regular tractor driver, or an employer, you need to learn about tractor safety before it is too late.

On average ten people a year die in tractor accidents and there are many major injuries, including amputations and fractures. There are many more accidents which HSE never hears about. Simple but essential safety steps would have prevented most of them.


Before starting

Before you start a tractor, you must know the basic safety procedures.



• Am I wearing suitable clothing and footwear?
• Have I read and understood the instruction manual?
• How am I going to do this work?
• Have I carried out pre-start checks of the machinery?
• Do I know enough to work safely?

• Make sure the handbrake is fully applied.
• Make sure all controls and equipment are left safe.
•. Stop the engine.
• Remove the key.

Always use SAFE STOP:

• before leaving your seat; or
• when anyone else approaches; or
• when anyone else is working on the machine.

You need to take extra precautions when SAFE STOP is not possible, for example when using slurry tankers or external controls.

Key Points:
• Never use a machine unless you are trained and know how to use it safely.
• Never use a machine unless it is properly maintained.
• Keep away from moving machinery - remember that some machine components will continue to rotate or move even after the engine has stopped.
• Wear footwear with a good grip - safety boots are best.
• Wear clothes which will not snag on machinery - preferably overalls.
• Keep long hair tied back.
• Remove any jewellery which might snag - donít forget watches and rings.
• Find and read the operatorís manual - keep it handy.


In position

A tractor can only be safely operated from the driving seat. You must know how to get in and get out safely, how to adjust seats and mirrors and how to recognise controls so you are always in control of your tractor.

Some tractors have controls mounted externally (normally on the rear mudguard) - you will need to take different precautions when operating these.

Key points:

Getting in and out
• Always use access steps and handholds.
• Use the nearside cab door whenever you can.
• Keep floors, doors, pedals and your boots clean and mud-free.
• Do not keep tools, drawbar pins or top links on the cab floor.
• Before leaving the seat follow SAFE STOP.
• Get out facing inwards so that you have a good grip.
• Never get in or off a moving machine.
• Before carrying out adjustments ensure the tractor is in SAFE STOP.
• Check the seat position - can you operate all controls comfortably?
• Adjust the seat suspension to your weight.
• Make sure mirrors are properly adjusted. When wearing a seat belt, double-check that you can still see clearly.
• Make sure mirrors and windows are clean and give full visibility.

Seat belts
• Seat belts are a legal requirement on all tractors where there is a risk of overturning and it is reasonably practicable to fit one.
• A seat belt will prevent you being thrown out of the cab in an overturn or road accident, where you are most likely to be killed or injured.
• Wear a seat belt when driving on slopes, silage clamps, working on ditch sides and when on public roads.
• Look in the operatorís manual to find out what each control does.
• Make sure you know how the controls are operated.
• Never use any control unless you are correctly seated in the cab.
• Know where the controls should be before you start the tractor.
• Donít forget that different tractors have different controls.
• Never use a machine that you have not been taught how to use.

External controls
• Look in the operatorís manual to find out where to stand when using external controls.
• Only use external controls in accordance with the operatorís manual.
• DO NOT place any part of your body in between the tractor and any mounted implement when operating these controls.


Under power

This step is about getting the engine started and making sure it is safe to get on.

This is the time to check the brakes, the steering and other controls. Also check that no one else is in danger from your tractor.

Key points:
• Never drive a tractor or other machinery unless you have been trained to do so.
• Make sure you understand the controls before you operate the tractor.
• Before moving off, always check whether independent brakes are locked together. They should always be locked together for road and transport use.
• Make sure no one else is near before you start the engine.
• Check that no one is in danger before you move.
• Check that the brakes and steering operate correctly.
• Make sure you know what each control does.



This is not the last step. A safe tractor operator needs many more skills than the steps listed so far. You need to be a competent driver before you can operate tractors and other machinery safely.

Above all, watch out for other people and keep your speed down.

Key points:
• Donít drive tractors unless they are properly maintained.
• Take your time and never rush when operating tractors.
• Watch out for obstacles and blind spots.
• Comply with warning signs.
• Remember, other people and children may be around - even if youíre not expecting them.
• Equipment, loads, bad weather or bright sunshine make it harder to see - take care.
• Get help if visibility is reduced, especially when reversing.
• When reversing, use mirrors and horns and any other reversing aids fitted to the tractor.
• Remember that confined or dark buildings and small farmyards make spotting and avoiding dangers difficult.
• Agree safe routes for other tractors and machines to avoid accidents.


Other People

Every time you use a tractor, look out for other people, wherever you are, as other workers are often nearby.

Always keep a look out for children.

Key points:

If you are an operator:
• Check for bystanders before starting tractors or machines.
• Check where assistants are working - make sure you can see them.
• Agree a way to work safely - make sure everyone follows it.
• Communicate clearly - make sure instructions can be heard and understood.
• Only carry someone else if a proper passenger seat is fitted.
• Use the horn to warn assistants that you are going to start.
If you are helping a tractor operator:
• Agree a way to work safely - and follow it.
• If you are using hand signals, agree their meaning beforehand.
• Make sure the tractor operator can see you.
• Never stand in the line of travel of a tractor or machine.
• Find out the safe places to work or stand when near machines.
• Listen to and follow instructions.
• DO NOT operate any external controls unless you have been instructed to do so.

If children could be present:
• Never allow them to ride on a tractor - remember it is illegal to have a child under 13 years old as a passenger.
• Keep them away from working tractors.
• Always use SAFE STOP.
• Always be aware of places where children may be.



You are most likely to have an accident when you are hitching or unhitching a machine from your tractor. To prevent these accidents, remember:

2 Operate controls from the correct position.
3 Never forget your assistants are also at risk.

Key points:

• Make sure you use the right hitch system.
• Only use controls from the operating position.
• Take extra care when using external controls.
• Never stand between the tractor and other machines, or behind them unless the tractor is stationary and the driver is aware of your presence.
• Never stand with your feet under, on or near drawbars.
• Ensure that jacks, skids and other supports are used and maintained.
• Communicate clearly if you get help with hitching.


Other machines and trailers

Unguarded power take-off (PTO) shafts, machine blockages and maintenance activities cause many serious injuries.

Correct guarding is essential and you must remember SAFE STOP - this is the most important step to make sure you can operate other machinery safely.

Key points:

PTO shafts
• Follow SAFE STOP - it makes sure nothing will move.
• However, when using a PTO-driven machine, eg a slurry tanker, in a stationary position, leave the PTO engaged.
• Ensure guards are in place - check they are properly chained, lubricated and free from defects.
• Report any faults immediately. . Do not use a machine with a damaged PTO shaft guard.
• Ensure the tractor is chocked or that there is a mechanical connection between the tractor and a stationary PTO-driven machine to ensure the tractor or machine does not move, causing the PTO shaft to separate
• Using tractors and trailers without an adequate braking system has led to loss of control, jackknifing and tractor-overturning incidents.
• Tractors and trailers used on or off the road need to stop safely within a reasonable distance under even the most adverse conditions
• . Inadequate trailer brakes can lead to accidents when manoeuvring on slopes or slippery surfaces, as the tractor may be pushed sideways and slide out of control.
• If trailer brakes are inadequate (ie are not doing their share of the braking) the tractor braking system can be subjected to excessive wear.
• Safe towing requires the use of a large enough tractor and selecting the most suitable gear to stop the combination within a safe distance.

Maintaining trailer brakes
• Properly maintain and adjust braking systems for tractor-trailer combinations. Testing on the move may be necessary after maintenance.
• Keep hydraulic brake couplings clean and avoid contamination.
• Make sure linkages are properly lubricated and operate freely and keep them maintained.
• After use clean mud and contamination from brakes (including parking brakes). Make sure the cleaning method does not lead to deterioration of the brakes (eg rusting caused by pressure washing).
• Tractors which are not fitted with a self-balancing braking system require more frequent checks to ensure the brakes are evenly balanced.
• . Follow the manufacturerís recommendations for frequency and detail of inspection.
• Some brake linings may contain asbestos so take appropriate precautions. For example, do not blow dust out of brake drums with an air line but DO use wet rags to clean out drums and place in a plastic waste bag while still wet. Special drumcleaning equipment is available which prevents dust escaping.
Other machinery
• Check the machine is properly guarded and the guards have no defects.
• Check the machine for defects.
• Check the brakes are connected.
• Make sure you are trained and competent to use the machine.
• Always use SAFE STOP.
• Donít use the machine unless it is properly maintained.
• Always lower machines to a safe position before leaving the seat.


Overhead power lines

Overhead power lines exist on virtually every farm.

This step is about dealing with the dangers they present.

Key points:

Overhead power lines
• Contact with any overhead power line can kill.
• Be aware of minimum line heights and get them checked by your supply company if you have doubts about their height.
• Find out ways of reducing the risk of contact with overhead power lines (see HSE Information Sheet AIS8(rev2) Working safely near overhead power lines).
• Check that lines are marked on the farm map and pass on this information to contractors and other visitors that need to know where the lines are.
• Be aware of the height and reach of machinery you buy and operate.
• Use alternative access points and routes to avoid the lines.
• Look out for warning signs, barriers, posts and warning tapes.
• Always use safe tipping areas.



A tractor can overturn anywhere - on silage clamps, near field drains and even on the flat. Most happen on slopes. You must know and recognise the dangers of slopes.

Accidents happen because drivers misjudge slopes, ignore changing ground conditions and forget the effect of loads on stability - do not drive on slopes until you are properly trained.

Key points:

Before you start
• Remember, overturning can happen on flat ground as well as on slopes.
• Remember, although a tractor can be driven up a slope with a hard surface, it cannot necessarily come down the same slope safely.
• Always couple and use implement brakes.
• Use seat belts if they are fitted. If they are not, get them fitted. You are at risk even if you have a cab.
• Make sure a safety cab is fitted - or a roll frame on older tractors (in which case a seat belt must be fitted and used).
• If in doubt walk the ground before driving over it to check for hollows, hidden logs, tree stumps, rock outcrops, rabbit holes etc.
A safe working system
Always plan work in advance so that the work methods are safe at all stages.
• Drive slowly where the ground surface is not easily seen, eg in long grass, bracken etc.
• Ensure you use a large enough tractor for the machine or trailer you are using, taking account of the weight of the machine, trailer and any load

Rearward overturns
A tractor with its rear wheels turning at only 2 mph will be vertical in 1 second if the object it is pulling resists movement. An inexperienced driver may need as much as 1.5 seconds to decide on and carry out remedial action.

Driving across and turning on slopes
• Always descend straight down the gentlest possible gradient of a slope, rather than driving diagonally across it.
• Avoid working across slopes if your tractor has large diameter, tubeless, low-ground-pressure tyres.
• Avoid turning down a slope - this is especially hazardous.
• Plan work across slopes so that turns are made uphill rather than downhill.
• Use the widest practicable wheel track setting to reduce the likelihood of the tractor overturning.

Hitching chains or tow ropes
• Always hitch AS LOW AS POSSIBLE.
• A chain or towrope hitched too high could cause rearward overturn of the towing tractor even on level ground.
• Never hitch above the axle.
Turning with rear-mounted equipment on a slope
• Add enough front ballast to counterbalance rear-mounted equipment, particularly when working on slopes. But remember, using such ballast may reduce safety when travelling downhill.
• Remember that when using rearmounted fertiliser spreaders or sprayers, the tractor rear-wheel grip reduces as the load is discharged.
• Remember the steady weight reduction reduces traction when going up a slope and increases the possibility of sliding, especially when coming down the slope.
• The higher the mounted equipment is on the tractorís rear linkage, the less stable the tractor becomes. Keep mounted equipment as low as possible (within the constraints of effective use).
• Select the correct gear for the ground conditions and turn slowly, so that the tractor is under complete control during the manoeuvre.
• Do not turn downhill on a slope.
• Use a three-point turn on sharp corners.
• Take extra care with offset-mounted machines. Turn slowly with the offset load on the up-slope side whenever possible.

Tractor with raised load on the front end
• Ensure enough ballast weights are fitted to the rear.
• Make sure the loader is not overloaded (consult the manufacturerís handbook).
• Whenever possible lower the loader for travel.
• Do not drive at speed, make abrupt turns, or suddenly stop with the loader raised.
• Plan fore-end loader work to minimise travel with the loader raised.
Vertical jackknifing of tractor and trailer combination
• Ensure trailers are not overloaded and the load is evenly distributed.
• When tipping take care to ensure the load slides freely from the trailer.
• Adding rear ballast (eg wheel weights or water ballast) will increase the stability of the tractor.
• Pick-up hitch hooks and trailer eyes should be free from wear that may result in unhitching, especially when tipping.

Freeing a bogged-down tractor
• If the tractor becomes bogged down, try to reverse out. If this fails you will need help.
• Never chain the wheels or jam them with blocks of wood. They may be forced into the ground and the tractor may overturn rearwards.

Winching with tractor-mounted winches
To avoid overturning the tractor during winching, always see that it is set straight in line with the pull.

• Before dismounting, stop the tractor engine and apply the parking brake fully.
• Do not park with a heavy load on a steep slope.
• Remember parking brakes may have a lower capability than service brakes, and some transmission systems provide no engine braking when the engine is stopped.

Driving near a ditch or bank
• Keep away from banks and ditches, especially when turning.
• If you cannot avoid driving near to ditches or banks take extreme care, particularly where the surface is loose or wet or where the edge is concealed by undergrowth.
• Make headlands wide enough for safe turning.
Clutch use
• Select the correct gear at the beginning of a slope, so there is no need to change gear on the slope.
• Engage four-wheel drive (if available) before working on slopes.
• Suddenly engaging the clutch can cause a rearward overturn.
• Let the clutch in slowly and avoid snatching. This is particularly important when driving up slopes.
• Keep the pedals, footwear and tractor floor/footplates as dry and free from mud as possible.
• Be aware that electrohydraulically operated clutches may engage more suddenly than mechanically operated clutches.

Using a tractor to stack or consolidate silage
• Ensure the sides of the clamp are properly supported and fitted with sight lines.
• Keep away from the edges and ensure the clamp is made properly.
• Select a tractor that is suitable for the job.
• Avoid using a tractor that is not fitted with an approved safety cab.
• Be aware of soft spots and hollows that may affect stability.

Tractor Driver Licence Categories

Categories Class of Vehicle
Motor vehicles not exceeding 3500kg M.A.M. and not exceeding 8 passenger seats (+ driver) towing trailer:
  • - not exceeding 750kg MA.M (4250kg tot) , OR
  • - trailer ex 750kg M.A.M. if max authorised combination weight does not exceed 3.5 tonnes and trailer M.A.M. does not exceed unladen weight of motor vehicle **
Holders of full licence before 1/1/97 retain entitlement to B+E, C1, C1+E (8.25 tonnes), D1 (not for hire or reward), and D1+E (not for hire or reward)

** Exemption - to tow damaged or defective vehicle from position where is likely to represent road safety hazard or obstruction to other road users so far as is reasonably necessary providing no consideration received for driving the vehicle - Regulation 7(7).

Cat B + trailers exceeding 750 kg M.A.M.
New drivers must hold Cat B licence and take a separate test

3 or 4 wheel motor vehicles not exceeding 550 kg unladen (Quadricycles)
If they exceed 550kg they fall into Cat B

Agricultural or forestry Tractor except Cat H vehicles.

Tracked Vehicle which is steered by its tracks.

Mower or Pedestrian controlled vehicles

More on Licence Categories

Tractor Driver Licence Categories Requirements

Categories Other Full Entitlements Provisional Entitlement Minimum Age Requirements Section 101 Road Traffic Act 1988
F, K, P*
* From 1/2/2001 new full cat B licence holders require basic training (CBT) before riding a moped Cat P
B1 and B1 (invalid carriages) - these sub-categories are included with a full Cat B licence although they are not shown on the licence

A, B+E,
G, H
17yrs (16 yrs - person in receipt of disability living allowance at the higher rate providing no trailer is drawn.)
(See above)

K, P
A, B, F

B, P
16 yrs if proceeding to, taking, returning from or having passed a Cat F test and vehicle is wheeled, vehicle + trailer not exceeding 2.45 metre width, trailer is two wheeled or close coupled (840 millimetres) 4 wheel

Age depends on which class of vehicle it falls into:
  • Invalid carriage - 16yrs
  • Moped - 16yrs
  • Motor bicycle - 17yrs
  • Agricultural or forestry tractor - 17yrs
  • Small Vehicle - 3.5t max gross wt, not exceeding 8 passengers + driver - 17 yrs
  • Medium-sized Goods Vehicle - 3.5 to 7.5 tonnes, goods not exceeding 8 passengers + driver - 18 yrs
  • Other Motor Vehicle - 21 yrs
More on Licence Requirements
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