Ready for the road


Due to the nature of the job, manure handling equipment must be large, stable and road-worthy. Cheryl Skjolaas, Biological Systems Engineering, University of Wisconsin Extension, said safety measures help protect personnel, prevent down time, prevent accidental spills and maintain customer relations.

“Public relations has become so important,” said Skjolaas. “If it is predictable, it is preventable. As a safety specialist, to me, there is no such thing as an accident. I’ll talk about incidents and crashes but there isn’t a chance that ‘it just happened.’”

In some cases, faulty equipment is to blame, but oftentimes operators were aware of an equipment problem prior to an accident. Many good practices for manure equipment safety should be in place before the tractor is started. Skjolaas said a good safety check prior to starting out helps to identify potential issues.

Check to make sure insurance coverage is up to date for the type of hauling to be done before any travel occurs. Coverage is probably different for commercial haulers than it is for farmers who are applying manure on their own land.

Be familiar with state and local regulations for vehicle weight, marking, lighting and travel considerations such as road restrictions. Be sure the tires on both the tractor and the implement are in good shape and inflated for the load and weight.

When manure hauling starts, long days are usually the norm. Equipment operators should arrive ready for that day’s work. Manure haulers who come to work ill or without sufficient rest have an increased risk of becoming involved in an accident.

Training is essential, especially if manure hauling involves any new equipment, new employees or a combination of those factors. Employers should model the action they expect from employees by establishing and following good practices.

Equipment should be checked daily for factors such as work suitability, functional fire extinguisher, safety clip in the hitch pin, vehicle lighting and marking, tire inflation, wheel nuts, clean windows and mirrors and properly mounted and clean SMV emblems. It may help to keep a pre-use check list to ensure no details are omitted.

Rules of the road vary among localities, but in general, Skjolaas said drivers should be prepared to yield the right of way to oncoming vehicles and yield half of the roadway (move to the right of centerline). Secondary roads, which are often narrower than state highways, may be difficult to navigate, so drivers should take a test run prior to hauling. Each trip with the spreader should be planned, with options for alternative routes if roads are closed.

“Discuss routes with employees or family members so you know where the hazardous areas are,” said Skjolaas. “Discuss what to do if there’s an oncoming vehicle and you need to move over.”

It’s the operator’s responsibility to warn other motorists of their intent, so always use signals to indicate the intent to turn. While states have differing regulations regarding speed, in general, haulers should not drive so slowly that they impede traffic flow. Some regions have regulations that dictate how many following vehicles can accumulate behind before the hauler must find a safe spot to pull over and allow others to pass. Haulers should only attempt to move over if the pull-over area is suitable for the equipment and sufficient in size to allow safe passage of other vehicles.

The SMV symbol is widely recognized for ag equipment and must be displayed properly. Skjolaas said the emblem should be new enough that the outer border has retroreflective material. This will reflect the headlights of a vehicle approaching from the rear at night and makes the SMV more visible.

“It changes the visibility of the SMV from 500 feet to 1,200 feet,” said Skjolaas, describing the retroreflective material. “It makes a difference in the hours of darkness in picking up light from cars.”

Operators should be familiar with the proper placement of amber reflectors. Amber reflectors should mark the most extreme width of the vehicle to allow passing drivers to accurately estimate the size of the equipment. New lighting technology helps to make farm equipment more visible.

For agricultural trains (a tractor pulling more than one implement), safety markings such as amber lights, reflectors and SMV should be in place on each implement. Be sure the last implement in the train has a properly mounted, easily visible SMV.

The operator must always be in full control of the load. The tractor should be large enough to safely tow and control the loaded spreader. The operator should be familiar with the braking power of the tractor and its ability to safely stop.

The four most common factors in crashes include distractions (cell phone usage), high speed, impaired or careless driving and failure to wear a seatbelt. Skjolaas said left-hand turns are the most common farm vehicle/motor vehicle crashes on public roads, and rear-end collisions are becoming more common due to faster tractors.

Skjolaas said machinery-related rollovers is another cause of accidents. It’s easy to lose control of the tractor – the weight of the tanker can easily exceed the weight of the tractor. Always check the load weight and determine whether it’s appropriate for the vehicle towing it.

Preventing crashes begins with following the rules of the road. Employees should be well-trained and familiar with operating both the tractor and the implement, and should be aware of how to handle the implement both empty and full.

Remember that nearly everyone on the road has instant access to a camera, and if a spill occurs, many will stop to take photos and videos. This is why it’s critical to ensure there’s protocol in place for handling a spill and that all operators are aware of who to call and first steps to take.

“Public image is very important,” said Skjolaas. “When you’re out on the road is the time to work on your public image. Keep the roads clean, and don’t give people a reason to complain.”

by Sally Colby

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