Agri technology, helping to save lives around machinery
Tractors and machinery have changed considerably in the past two decades in relation to safety. This was fuelled by both the number of injuries and fatalities with machinery as well as technological advances and developments to tackle these problems
In many ways, modern machinery is very different to its predecessors. The visibility inside the cab has been greatly improved by removing the side pillars. This was made possible by advances in cab design, enabling roll-over protection with only four pillars, as opposed to six previously.
Inside, the control layouts are now more ergonomic to use and react to the operators’ inputs faster. They also incorporate safety features such as the rear lift on tractors, which goes into a “sleep” mode when not being used. It requires the operator’s input to be reactivated, meaning the lift cannot be engaged by accident.
The PTO has also become much safer, as it is now engaged by holding a button or pulling a safety catch before starting. Emergency stop is now incorporated into the switches, allowing anyone to simply hit a button to disengage the PTO in an emergency.
Most manufacturers are using colour code these days, to make it much easier for operators to understand different functions – especially when changing between machines.
Operator seating has also advanced in terms of safety, now commonly being fitted with an operator presence switch that detects when there is nobody on the seat and will sound an alert, for example, if the handbrake is not engaged – or in some cases will even cut off the machine.
In order for the operator to keep the machine running they need to apply all the safety systems and tell the machine they are leaving the cab; for example, by pressing and holding a button for a determined length of time.
To start modern machines, all systems such as the transmission must be in neutral, and the clutch and handbrake engaged before they will turnover. This helps remove the risk of causing an accident by starting a machine in gear.
Sensors and alarms are now also commonly found on newer machines. These sensors act as safety systems to prevent certain actions occurring if they are engaged, in order to reduce the risk of injury. As do alarms that sound, for instance, when the cutting drum is still rotating even though it is disengaged.
Safety has also improved outside farm machinery. Most manufactures now offer PTO, rear lift and, in some cases, hydraulic controls on the rear fenders. These eliminate the risk of the operator getting caught in the danger zone between the implement being attached and the tractor, while reaching in through the back window to the controls.
On the road
Modern machinery has become much heavier and faster and therefore requires more braking effort to stop safely.
Tractors that are capable of travelling at speeds over 50km/hr are fitted with an ABS (anti-lock braking system), which uses sensors to monitor the wheel slip and braking effort to stop the wheels locking up.
When towing a trailer, under the new regulations it must be fitted with a breakaway device capable of stopping the trailer in the event of it becoming decoupled from the tractor.
These systems can be either hydraulically activated by pulling a valve attached to the tractor via a steel cable; electronically activated, disengaging a solenoid valve and applying the brakes in the event of a power loss; or manually activated, where the handbrake is pulled by a steel cable attached to the tractor.
When travelling inside the tractor, operator seats – and in some cases instructor seats – now come standard with seat belts, to keep the driver and passenger safe.
Dash cameras are becoming more popular and work by recording your view out of the front windscreen.
So in the event of an accident the footage can be used as evidence to prove what happened and who was at fault. Some insurance companies even offer a discount on your policy if you have one fitted.
Electronics can also aid safety around machinery. By replacing standard halogen lights with modern LED versions, you are greatly improving your visibility at night, making it safer due to the fact that LED lights are much brighter.
When operating machinery is in close proximity to people, there are various safety systems available, such as reversing cameras and beepers, which will give the operator a much clearer view of their surroundings as well as alerting others when the machine is moving.
There are also kill-switch systems that can cut all power to the machine if it goes into a dangerous situation. This can be done manually in the machine as well as wirelessly, from a remote location.
Automation can be taken a step further by using robotic machines and autonomous tractors, which can work in dangerous areas while the operator remains at a safe distance.
If operating machinery such as teleporters or loaders, weigh load systems are available to monitor the weight being lifted as well as the machine’s stability. These sound an alarm if there is a risk of an accident.
To keep your machine itself safe, it can be fitted with a tracker. So if it gets stolen, you can monitor its location in real time as well as, in some cases, remotely stop the machine.
Modern machines are also fitted with systems that monitor their performance by using a collection of sensors. These sensors, in turn, relay the information back to the “brain” or on-board computer.
In the event of a problem, it will either alert the operator by an alarm and fault code or, in some cases, go into “safe mode”, limiting its function and protecting it from further damage.
Hydraulics use a combination of oil pressure and hydraulic rams.
In the event of a pressure loss or failing in the system, a safety feature known as a check valve will stop the implement from collapsing under its own weight, for instance if a trailer is tipped.
Tractors also use hydraulic power steering to help you manoeuvre around the farmyard. In the event of a system or engine failure, this will cause you to lose steering.
To overcome this safety issue, an electrically powered auxiliary pump will engage and supply oil to the steering system.
Plant machinery is fitted with a device known as a “dead man”, which is essentially a lever or button that must be engaged before the hydraulic system becomes active.
Technology has made operating machinery much safer. Though some systems may be hard to adapt to, they are there to protect you. Never tamper with any safety systems and always keep them in proper working condition. Safety systems can be retrofitted and don’t cost a great deal. Remember: your life is at risk and a €5 switch on the €500,000 forage harvester may save your life some day.