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Lawn Care: Tractor Safety


BSE-43NP (BSE-100P)

Authors as Published

Authored by Robert Grisso, Extension Engineer, Biological Systems Engineering, Virginia Tech; John Perumpral, W.S. Cross Professor Emeritus, Biological Systems Engineering, Virginia Tech; Don Ohanehi, Research Scientist, Biological Systems Engineering, Virginia Tech; Mike Goatley, Professor, Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences,Virginia Tech; Kathleen Jamison, Extension Specialist, 4-H Youth Development, Virginia Tech; Cathy Sutphin, Associate Director, 4-H Youth Development, Virginia Tech; Dan Swafford, Curriculum Specialist, Biological Systems Engineering, Virginia Tech; Carl Estes, Instructional Technologist, AHNR Information Technology (first published November 2013, last reviewed January 2024)

How to Use This Training Module – Steps to Success

  • Read the operator’s manual and understand tractor operation and safe practices.
  • Ask your supervisor to point out the safety features on tractors.
  • Ask your supervisor to demonstrate the safe use of tractors and their maintenance.
  • Become familiar with the personal protective equipment (PPE) recommended when operating a tractor.
  • Discuss common tractor accidents and ways to prevent them with your supervisor.
  • Review the important points in the Review section of this module.
  • Take a quiz — available at edu/safe-tractor — to check your understanding of tractor safety.


Most tractors used in landscaping, lawn care, and golf course maintenance are compact tractors in the 20 to 40 horsepower range. Although these tractors are considerably smaller than farm tractors, they are susceptible to the same types of accidents, with potential for serious injuries or deaths. Causes for such serious accidents are often the same in both cases, and therefore, the steps to take to avoid the accidents are the same.

A man riding tractor

Safety Tips for Operating a Tractor

  • Always wear personal protective equipment such as hard hat, goggles or face shield, work gloves, safety footwear, and hearing protection when operating a tractor.
  • Do not allow any riders on a tractor.
  • Use tractors with a rollover protective structure whenever possible. The ROPS protects the tractor operator during tractor overturns.
  • Always use the seatbelt when operating a tractor with ROPS.
  • Read the operator’s manual and understand the operation and safety features on the tractor.
  • Clear the area of loose items (rocks, cans, wire, toys, etc.) before starting to mow.
  • Be alert and watch for moving vehicles, people, and pets while operating a tractor.
  • Avoid mowing too close to trees.
  • Reduce speed when going over holes and bumps and when operating on embankments or taking sharp turns.
  • Stay clear of ditches and ponds.
  • Use the same low/slow gear when going up or down a hill.
  • Make sure the path is clear when reversing a tractor.
  • Disengage mower blades before crossing gravel patches.
  • Do not drive compact tractors on streets or highways. Their small size makes them difficult to see.
  • Never leave the operator’s seat while an attachment is running.
  • Never operate a compact tractor under the influence of drugs or alcohol or while using a cell phone or music listening device.

Starting and Stopping Procedures

Consult the operator’s manual for proper starting and stopping procedures.

One of the most dangerous power transfer mechanisms on a tractor is the power takeoff. Report a missing or damaged PTO shield to the person in charge of equip- ment maintenance. Do not operate the tractor without a shield or with a damaged shield. The following safety practices may help to prevent the most common PTO accidents.

  • Wait for all moving parts to stop before dismounting the tractor.
  • Keep all parts of the PTO shielded.
  • Periodically check the PTO shaft shields by spinning or rotating them to make sure they are not stuck to the shaft. CAUTION: This should only be done with the engine turned off.
  • Never step over a rotating PTO shaft.
  • Do not wear loose clothing near a rotating PTO. Make sure shoelaces are tied and long hair is secured.

Maintenance Checks

  • Check the fuel level. Never refuel when the engine is hot or when the tractor is in a poorly ventilated area.
  • Check the coolant level of liquid-cooled engines regularly. Do this only when the engine is cold.
  • Check the battery’s electrolyte level. Make sure there are no open flames or sparks near the tractor when doing this.
  • Adjust the tractor seat for the operator’s comfort.
  • Check tire wear and adjust tire pressure, tractor weights, and cutting height for operation.
  • Never disconnect (or bypass) factory-installed safety features.
  • Make sure the brakes and lights are working.


  • Always wear PPE that are appropriate for operating a tractor.
  • Never allow riders on tractors.
  • Employ safe practices when operating a tractor.
  • Employ safe practices when operating power takeoff.
  • Follow proper maintenance procedures for tractors.


This publication was developed with the support of National Youth Farm Safety Education and Certification (grant No. USDA/NIFA- 2010-41521-20830), National Institute of Food and Agriculture, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The team that developed this publication is solely responsible for its content; it does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the U.S. Department of Labor. Team members are Robert Grisso, John Perumpral, Don Ohanehi, Mike Goatley, Kathleen Jamison, Cathy Sutphin, Dan Swafford, and Carl Estes.

The team would like to express appreciation for the reviews and comments by David Balderson, teacher, Atlee High School; Phil Blevins, Virginia Cooperative Extension agent; Deborah Chaves, instructor, Monroe Technology Center; Sonya Furgurson, VCE associate agent; Michael Hopkins, instructor, Louisa High School; Emerson Lynn “Kip” Kirby Jr., teacher, Richlands High School; Michael Lachance, VCE agent; Alyssa Walden, VCE associate agent; A.J. Powell Jr., professor emeritus, University of Kentucky.

Virginia Cooperative Extension materials are available for public use, reprint, or citation without further permission, provided the use includes credit to the author and to Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Tech, and Virginia State University.

Virginia Cooperative Extension is a partnership of Virginia Tech, Virginia State University, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments. Its programs and employment are open to all, regardless of age, color, disability, sex (including pregnancy), gender, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, genetic information, military status, or any other basis protected by law

Publication Date

January 29, 2024