Staying safe during peak season on the farm

A combination of second cut silage and the grain harvest getting into full swing increases potential safety hazards.
A combination of second cut silage and the grain harvest getting into full swing increases potential safety hazards.
Trailer brakes and lights should be constantly checked as the silage season and harvest progresses
Derek Casey

Derek Casey

Both the Road Safety Authority and the Irish Farmers' Association have recently issued an appeal to all road users to be extra vigilant during what is one of the busiest times of the year for agricultural machinery on roads.

The reminder comes after one of the latest farm tragedies saw a 57-year-old man die after falling from a tractor in Killarney last week. Our heartfelt condolences go to his family.

Unfortunately, a combination of second cut silage and the grain harvest getting into full swing heightens the chances of more accidents occurring before the summer is out.

Road users in general are being warned to expect an increase in the number of agricultural vehicles using the roads over the summer and autumn period.

All road users are being advised to watch out for tractors, trailers and other farm machinery exiting from fields and farm yards and to exercise caution when travelling behind or meeting such vehicles on the public road.

Drivers of agricultural machinery are also being reminded that they are governed by road traffic laws on driver licensing, insurance, standards in relation to vehicle roadworthiness, vehicle lighting and motor tax.

IFA president Eddie Downey is advising farmers to be safety conscious whenever bringing a farm vehicle onto the public road.


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"Farmers should be aware of traffic building up behind them and keep left where possible to allow other vehicles pass safely.

"By the same token, I would appeal to other road users to show patience when encountering farm machinery on the road. With understanding on both sides the roads can be safer for everybody."

All agricultural vehicles must have proper working brakes on both tractor and trailer units and must be fitted with lights, reflectors and indicators.

In addition, a grain or silage trailer should not be loaded in such a way that would make it unstable on the road, and beware of low bridges, overhanging trees, overhead cables and uneven road surfaces which could cause the load to shift and possibly overturn.

For the really large vehicles such as silage harvesters or combines, contractors should consider whether there is a need for advance warning of other road users and whether an escort vehicle is required.

Make sure that the drivers you use are competent and that tractors are driven at an appropriate speed for the road conditions.

Watch out for vulnerable road users - especially children. It is worth taking a few minutes to remind yourself of the legal requirements for machinery used on the road.


Four essential machinery safety checks

1 Brakes

Agricultural vehicles must be equipped with at least a service brake and a parking brake. Where a tractor is drawing a trailer that exceeds five tonnes in laden weight, the service brake must be of a continuous or semi-continuous type. This is defined as a single control operated from the driving position, which is capable of being operated progressively and includes an additional power source and controls to ensure a co-ordinated response between the tractor and the trailer.

Brakes fitted to a trailer drawn by a tractor vary according to the laden weight. Agricultural trailers exceeding five tonnes must be fitted with equipment for the proper functioning of a service brake, which acts on both the tractor and the trailer, a parking brake and an automatic breakaway brake.

2 Lighting

Agricultural vehicles must be fitted with proper lights and reflectors and must be in good working order. Tractors must be fitted with two headlamps, two side lamps, two rear lamps, two rear reflectors, brake lights and number plate lights. Tractors and combinations must also be fitted with brake lights and indicators. Detached trailers parked in a public place after dark must be fitted with two side lamps, two rear lamps and two rear reflectors.

The use of white lights or ploughing lamps to the rear of an agricultural vehicle while on a public road at night is prohibited because this could confuse motorists into thinking that a vehicle is coming towards them. Indicator lights need to be checked daily to ensure they are in good working order.

3 Weight and dimensions

Never exceed the maximum permitted weight limits for vehicles and axles set down in road traffic regulations, nor the manufacturer's maximum design laden weight for the vehicle concerned. Trailers should not be overloaded, and tractor and trailer combinations should travel at speeds appropriate to agricultural vehicles. Not many people know that the maximum speed forms part of the definition of a tractor for tax purposes, and failure to comply could lead to breach of the law.

Farmers must not use exceptionally high frames on trailers which could endanger the stability, steering and braking of a tractor and trailer combination.

Vehicles or loads which exceed the maximum weight, length or widths allowable require a special permit from local authorities.

It is an offence to allow stones, clay or any other material to remain on a public road where doing so would cause a hazard or potential hazard to people using the road and obstruct or interfere with the safe use of the road.

Drivers of tractors and other off road vehicles should ensure the tractor is regularly washed down to avoid carrying mud and stones onto the public road.

4 Licensing and insurance

To drive a tractor you must have a category W licence. The minimum age at which you may apply for a category W licence is 16. This is a contentious issue, and the majority of contractors are looking for drivers who are at least 18.

Finally, any vehicle used in a public place must be covered by third party insurance. Third party insurance cover is also required on all trailers - even those not being drawn by a tractor.

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