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Tractors Require Extra Caution in Winter

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George Maher, Retired Agricultural Safety Specialist

Snow, ice and cold make operating a tractor more difficult and more dangerous, according to an agricultural safety expert at North Dakota State University.

"Tractor operators should change their driving practices to adjust for winter conditions," says George Maher, of the NDSU Extension Service. "Problems and hazards are amplified by ice, snow and cold temperatures."

He notes that braking ability on many tractors is affected significantly by snow and ice because most two-wheel-drive tractors only have brakes on their rear wheels. That problem is compounded when front-end loaders are carrying heavy loads of snow or hay. "Even tractors with front wheel assist have limited stopping ability," Maher says. "Only the true four wheel drive tractors have four wheel braking."

The use of front end loaders requires considerably more caution in winter conditions than during summer. Slippery conditions increase the hazard of maneuvering elevated loads. "Always keep the load and speed low where traction is poor," Maher says.

Be sure to use front end loaders equipped with grapple jaws when moving large round bales of hay, fodder or straw so the load cannot shift, Maher notes. Grapple jaws will prevent big round bales from rolling back down onto the tractor where the operator can be crushed.

"Even a tractor cab does not provide adequate protection when the loader is not equipped with jaws," Maher says.

Safe and proper ballasting of the tractor is needed with the use of a front end loader in any season, but especially so in winter, he notes. Calcium chloride solution in the rear tires or solid weights, are good options, Maher says.

"Solid weights are most stable and actually have the advantage in winter or summer," he says. "Pure water should never be used for ballast because it will freeze and result in a tractor that is very dangerous and difficult to handle at any speed faster than walking."

Maher notes that human reaction time can be significantly affected by cold temperatures and poor visibility. "Plan work activities ahead of time, allow additional time to get work done, and set realistic goals for daily work in the winter.