There are only three things that can kill a farmer: lightning, rolling over in a tractor, and old age. (Bill Bryson)

American author Bill Bryson may well have had his tongue firmly in his cheek when he made the above statement, but he has a point – especially when it comes to tractors. If you want to have the point hammered home, you need look no further than Safe Work Australia’s statistics, which show that between 1 July 2003 and 30 June 2011 tractors were involved in 93 of the 356 farm deaths during that period.

With a nod to Mr Bryson’s remark, this is not to deny that other factors aren’t also a cause for concern.

In terms of old age, the figures from Safe Work Australia for the same period above showed that nearly one in three fatalities involved a worker aged 65 or more. Farmers are getting older, but the land remains an unforgiving environment in which to work.

And while lightning may not be high on the list of concerns, there is certainly a long shopping list of other hazards that exist on a farm which make farming one of Australia’s most dangerous occupations.

But back to tractors. Tractors have recently been responsible for incidents in rural Queensland and Western Australia in which workers suffered serious leg injuries and, tragically, an incident in Victoria in which a man died after becoming trapped following a rollover. Tractors are serious pieces of machinery that need to be taken seriously and if you haven’t thought about rollover protection for tractors and other farm vehicles, then consider this your wake up call.

Risks of being crushed or trapped by a tractor (including buckets, tines and other attachments) should be well understood – statistics for the above eight year period again show the need for vigilance given that 14 tractor-related incidents during that time involved these types of issues.

Aside from these obvious risks, the environment in which tractors are used also needs to be considered from a health and safety perspective. Have you considered dehydration from long hours of ploughing or harvesting, or the need for proper protection from exposure to chemicals, noise, dust and the sun? What about the guard on the PTO shaft? How do you manage the risk of workers being isolated from contact, and help, if they do get into trouble while out in the back paddock slashing? And if you are getting older, what does this mean when you are deciding whether it is a wise idea to jump down from the cab?

Tractors, like any farm equipment, are safe when used properly, but it seems that the same mistakes are repeatedly being made. Maybe it is complacency, or just not taking time to properly think through the risks. Unsurprisingly, there is no substitute for common sense, which means you need to stop and think about the risks, plan how you will work safely, and of course make sure that you follow through in your actions. You also need to remember that things change, including your own capabilities, and make adjustments for this in your planning.

If you want to know more, there is plenty of guidance available but hopefully the above matters give you some food for thought. Be careful on your tractor, but don’t forget to plan for old age and lightning too!