Producers are reminded to keep PTO shields in place on equipment

Power take-off drives can be found on most tractors, and are critical for powering equipment, but they are dangerous.

When operated at full-recommended speed, a PTO shaft will rotate clockwise at 540 revolutions per minute (rpm), which equals nine revolutions per second, or at 1,000 rpm (16.7 revolutions per second). Most PTO accidents and injuries occur when clothing becomes entangled with a part of the spinning PTO system. Protruding components such as the locking pin, bolt, cotter pin, grease fitting, nails, universal joint and tractor spline can hook, and grab loose or dangling clothes. Bootlaces, pant legs, coat or shirt cuffs and tails, drawstrings and scarves frequently get entangled. Cases have also been reported of long hair getting caught in PTOs.

The PTO was developed in the late 1920s to transfer power from the tractor to trailing or other equipment. The drives from the early power takeoffs were poorly shielded, and in many cases were not shielded at all. Some manufacturers added a protective shield, but they were frequently in the way of those who operated the tractors and equipment, they bent or broke easily, and often were removed. The totally-shielded shaft came into production several years later and is less likely to be removed from the PTO drives, however, there continues to be a number of unshielded drives in use.

“The number one thing that will save lives are shields,” Karen Funkenbusch, University of Missouri Extension safety specialist, said. “They were put there by the manufacturer for a reason. It won’t matter how many times we put videos out or do stories on how to work safely around a PTO, if the safety device is taken off, it won’t matter. People can potentially and very quickly get caught in a spinning PTO. In the blink of an eye, a nanosecond, you can get caught in an unshielded PTO. If you step over a running PTO and there’s a string hanging off your jeans or your shoestring becomes untied, you can get caught. The top safety fact is that the PTO needs to be shielded; end of story.

“When it comes time to repair equipment, a shield isn’t handy to have, so it gets taken off and never put back on. You’re in the field working and you have a breakdown, so you fix it then get back to work and either forget to put it back on, or don’t put it back on because you think, what if it breaks down again, and again, and again? They might not think they have the time or the energy to keep putting it back on and then they are out later to do a different job and that’s when it happens; they’re tangled in an unshielded PTO.”

Funkenbusch went on to say that a PTO shield is a safety device that should not be ignored, just as a seatbelt in a motor vehicle.

“The engineering safety control for a PTO is that shielded PTO,” she said. “When you take that shield off, it becomes unshielded and unsafe, a super dangerous PTO.”

The most common way people become entangled in a PTO is by reaching or stepping over a spinning PTO, and an article of clothing becomes caught. It can even be a string.

Long hair can also present a potential danger when working with a spinning PTO.

“I know a woman who got her face ripped off because of her long hair getting caught,” Funkenbusch said. “She leaned over the PTO and it caught her hair. If you come in contact with an unshielded PTO, it’s going to pull your hair in and it’s going to wrap you around, head first.”

That is just one of the many stories Funkenbusch shares with others to reinforce the need for PTO education and safety. “I’ve talked with unshielded PTO incident survivors and they say they never thought it would happen to them, but you can’t predict that it won’t happen to you. To the person who took the shield off, what if it happened to your son, your daughter, your wife or a friend or loved one? What if they got hurt as a result of you saying, ‘it won’t happen to me?’ It did happen, but to someone else.”

Injuries involving PTOs can be deadly. According to the organization, EazySafe, about 30 percent of machinery-related fatalities can be attributed to PTO incidents.

“Things like this can be prevented if people would just keep the shield around the PTO like it should be. If producers are still gearing up for harvesting and they don’t have their shield on, do it right now before you do any other kind of job. If you’re done with harvesting for the fall and are getting ready to do maintenance on equipment, now would be the time to check and see if you removed any of those shields and put it back on. You don’t want to be that person who, in the blink of an eye, gets caught in a PTO shaft; it can be avoided.”

Producers are urged to not only follow PTO safety practices, but to educate anyone who might come in contact with a PTO as well.

“I will show people, especially moms, a shielded and unshielded PTO and I will ask them if they are familiar with farm equipment, and most will say they are,” Funkenbusch said. “I’ll ask them if their PTO looks like this, or that. They will stand there and say theirs look like the unshielded PTO. That’s when I ask them if they are aware of the danger of working around an unshielded PTO, and a lot of times they are standing there with the person who took the PTO shield off, and I’ll ask if they realize the risk they are put at, as well as the risk to their children and family of being entangled. They will say they are not going to work around unshielded PTOs anymore, nor will their children.

“A culture of safety needs to be ingrained at a very young age when working around a farm with equipment or animals. If there is a culture of safety ingrained in you, you are already doing it. When it’s ingrained, you don’t take the shield off, you don’t disconnect the bypass start and you don’t ever disengage the safety belt, and you don’t repair things under a tractor without blocking it first, you don’t ever work around a bin without lockout/tagouts. It has to be a culture of safety. We should automatically know that you never work around an unshielded PTO that is spinning.”

If producers are unable to locate the appropriate shield for their equipment, Funkenbusch recommends they contact the dealer to acquire a replacement. She also cautioned producers not to attempt to fabricate their own shield.

“If you didn’t have a safety belt in your car, would you make your own? What about if you didn’t have brakes, would you make your own?” she said. “Why would not make the investment to protect yourself and your family? Why take the risk of making something that you might not have the skills to do and make a small investment to save your life, and those of your loved ones?”


Safety Tips for PTO Use

 Keep all PTO shielding (including the master shield) in place.

Repair or replace damaged or missing shields.

Stay safely away from unshielded moving parts.

Watch your step when walking or working around a running machine.

Wear work clothing with no loose ends or strings to catch on or be caught by machinery.

Keep long hair under a cap or tied back to prevent it from being caught by the machinery.

Keep children out of the danger zone.

Stop the PTO when dismounting from the tractor.

– Source, The National Safety Council


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