Journal of the NACAA
ISSN 2158-9429
Volume 13, Issue 1 - June, 2020


Re-designing Tractor and Machinery Safety Curriculum for Women in Agriculture and Young Agricultural Workers

Jepsen, S. D., Associate Professor, Ohio State University Extension
Walls, K., Undergraduate Student Researcher, The Ohio State University


The 2017 census reported 1.2 million women farmers in the United States, amounting to one-third of farmers in the nation. Women are susceptible to the same threats of occupational injuries as men, yet rarely is agricultural safety education designed primarily for a female audience. Based on an existing national resource for youth audiences, a new curriculum was developed to teach women about tractor operation and safety. The thirteen lessons were pilot tested and evaluated at extension events and in high school agriscience education classrooms. Evaluation data found these resources interesting and relevant for a range of participants’ ability and prior background knowledge.




Women in Agriculture

The most recent U.S. Census reported 1,227,461 female farmers in 2017, amounting to 36% of all U.S. farmers (United States Department of Agriculture, 2017). Female operators are involved in 43% of all U.S. farmland and have a large financial impact on the economy of the United States, accounting for 38% of agricultural sales. Females showed a significant portion of leadership on the farm, providing on-farm decisions to 56% of the total U.S. farms. Approximately 30% of new and beginning farmers – those who have operated a farm or ranch for less than ten years – are female producers.

Women in agriculture face unique challenges and often their needs are overlooked causing them to feel as if they are not respected as farmers (Hyde, 2017). A typical farm operation in the U.S. is likely to model traditional family structures in assignment of roles, where a man serves as the head of the farm and a woman is the bookkeeper. To help empower women farmers, Annie’s Project was created to provide business risk management education for women in agriculture with an emphasis on farm economics and bookwork (Hyde, 2017). Not counting this economic program, very few efforts have been made to create agricultural safety education specifically for women (Hyde, 2017).


Risks in Agriculture

Agriculture has a long history of being recognized as the most hazardous industry in the United States. Because injuries and incidents are non-discriminatory of gender or other demographics, all populations are advised to be precautious while working in agriculture.

Within the Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing industry, the production agriculture sector accounted for approximately 70.3% of the 3,299 work deaths between 2003 and 2007. Nearly 900 of these incidents involved farm tractors, with 43% being from tractor overturns (Murphy et al., 2010).

The 3E Model of agricultural safety is an injury prevention model used by occupational specialists to control for injuries and fatalities (Jepsen, 2018). The 3Es represent engineering, enforcement, and education. Engineering is the design of agricultural equipment or a farmstead system in order to reduce or eliminate the hazard altogether. Enforcement includes rules which may be federal or state laws, or simply shop or farm rules. Finally, education is recommended for any person operating heavy machinery or partaking in potentially hazardous tasks (Jepsen, 2018). Education is often the first of the 3Es to be implemented to combat agricultural injuries and fatalities.


Need for Safety Education

Tractor safety education is a cornerstone program within agricultural safety because tractors have always been a major source of farm-based injuries. Within Ohio, 61% of farm fatalities are attributed to tractors and machinery (Ohio State University, 2020). While each population has its own training needs, many tractor education materials overlap and provide a blanket education for all types of operators. Face to face training is a popular form of agricultural safety education through agricultural educators and extension educators (Murphy et al., 2010).

There are three nationally recognized agricultural safety programs to teach tractor and machinery operation: the Hobar Manual, Gearing Up for Safety: Production Agricultural Safety Training for Youth, and the National Safe Tractor and Machinery Operation Program. These safety education programs are tailored toward youth and were designed to be taught by curriculum instructors. Their content satisfies the training exemption identified in the Agricultural Hazardous Occupations Orders (AgHOs) (U.S. DOL, 2007), which include:

  1. Youth enrolled in a high school agricultural education program are permitted to be employed, providing that certain documentation requirements are met (AgHOs 1-6).
  2. Youth who complete an education training program, commonly known as tractor and machinery certification course, offered through the federal Extension service or by agricultural education are eligible for employment (AgHOs 1-2).

The Safe Operation of Agricultural Equipment, more commonly known as the Hobar Manual, was the primary curriculum that satisfied the Hazardous Occupation Orders (AgHOs) prior to 2000. It consisted of eleven units of 24-hour based instruction with training topics related to maintenance and safety checks, starting and stopping tractors, tractor safety on the farm, and tractor safety on the road. Since 2001, the National Safe Tractor and Machinery Operation Program (NSTMOP) has been available online and in hard copy formats. This curriculum was developed collaboratively by Penn State University, Ohio State University, and the agricultural division of the National Safety Council with funding provided by the USDA - National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). The NSTMOP consists of seventy-seven task sheets, a written test that covers minimum core content areas, and a driving skills test (Murphy, 2019).

In addition to these educational resources, there are also two clearinghouses that specifically provide agricultural safety education materials. The National Agricultural Safety Database (NASD) is a repository of information, containing interactive training materials, fact sheets, brochures, pamphlets, videos and more. The Safety in Agriculture for Youth (SAY) has a clearinghouse to provide a one-stop shop for agricultural safety and health resources designed specifically for youth. The SAY project is funded by USDA-NIFA and contains both supporting resources and formal curricula that align to the Agriculture, Food, and Natural Resources (AFNR) Career Cluster Content Standards. Having an AFNR alignment score helps high school and middle school agricultural educators support their state’s educational requirement to teach from AFNR content (SAY, 2015).


Curriculum development for inexperienced learners and youth.

A challenge facing career and technical education is the development of relevant curriculum for their programs (Jacobs, 2004). Along with designing curriculum to meet state and national standards, it is also helpful when educators foster experiential learning – a process of providing an engaging experience followed by structured reflection and future application (Baker et al., 2012). Students who partake in experiential learning have increased motivation, knowledge, retention, and have developed life skills (Mowen & Harder, 2005); and experiential learning is pivotal in students’ educational experiences due to its tendency to incorporate higher level tasks on Bloom’s Taxonomy. Bloom’s Taxonomy is a hierarchy of cognitive levels, beginning with rote memorization (remember) and ending with producing new work (create), with middle levels of understand, apply, analyze, and evaluate (McDaniel, 2018). Using Bloom’s Taxonomy to capitalize on experiential learning opportunities and promote positive and confident learners, curriculum developers can design meaningful content for hands-on instruction for learners of all ages and skill levels.



The purpose of this research was to design female-friendly agricultural safety education resources for women in agriculture and young agricultural workers. The primary goal of the project was to build confidence in learners’ knowledge about agricultural safety hazards and their abilities to safely operate farm machinery. To meet this goal, the authors established three main objectives:

  1. Review and re-design available national curricula into lesson plan format for use with women and youth.
  2. Develop train-the-trainer style agricultural safety curriculum to be used by agricultural science and extension educators.
  3. Evaluate the curriculum based on the trainer’s ability to access and utilize the lessons, along with their modifications of the particular lessons.



The research followed a two-phase process, with the first phase being curriculum development. In phase 1, the authors reviewed content within the NSTMOP curriculum and determined this source to serve as the foundation for the re-designed resources. The author team established internal and external validity of the lesson plans and their evaluation instruments through a series of pilot testing.

Several events offered opportunity to use the new materials. Within non-formal programs, five sessions were offered to 113 participants, where four of these sessions had women-only audiences and one session contained both female and male genders. Evaulations were completed at three of these sessions. A large-venue conference offered an opportunity for an interactive learning exhibit for 2,200 teens to engage with one module in the curriculum; no evaluations were collected at the convention. Details of each session are:

  • August 1, 2017: An OSU female Agricultural Safety Program professional taught 21 women attending a Women in Ag Tractor Safety Workshop in Muskingum County, Ohio. All participants were female, ranging in age from 14 – 70 years. 
  • January 25, 2018: An OSU female Agricultural Safety Program professional taught 8 females at a safety day in Wooster, Ohio. Participants ranged in age from 28 – 70 years.
  • February 21, 2018: Three OSU female Agricultural Safety Program professionals taught 25 individuals at the Midwest Women in Agriculture Conference in Muncie, Indiana. All twenty-five participants were female, ranging in age from 18 – 65 years.
  • June 2, 2018: An OSU female Agricultural Safety Program professional taught 30 women attending a Women in Ag Tractor Safety Workshop in Butler County, Ohio. All participants were female, ranging in age from 20 – 70 years.
  • October 24 – 27, 2018: Two OSU female Agricultural Safety Program professionals taught 2,200 high school FFA members at the National FFA Convention held in Indianapolis, Indiana. Participants were FFA members from a wide demographic region of U.S. states, ranged in ages from 13 – 22 years, and were 50% female.
  • March 22, 2019: An OSU female Agricultural Safety Program professional taught 29 ladies attending the East Ohio Women in Agricultural Conference in Massillon, Ohio. All participants were female, ranging in age from 17 – 60 years.


The curriculum was also pilot tested using a female-led train-the-trainer session on November 29, 2018. Seven OSU preservice agricultural educators attended the session to learn more about the curriculum and how it would be implemented into their student teaching classrooms. Comments by preservice agricultural education students were used to improve curriculum activities.

The second phase included curriculum implementation and evaluation. The OSU Institutional Review Board approved the research protocol, curriculum modules and evaluation instrument; and the survey underwent validity and reliability testing.

Curriculum educators were recruited using two email lists: OSU county Extension Educators listserv and all agriscience educators listed on the Ohio FFA website. Instructors were able to self-identify and sign a consent form before they were given access to the curriculum. Instructors were responsible for delivery of these educational activities to their typical students or clientele within their typical work setting. It was estimated that educators would teach 5 to 25 participants in any given session.

Within one month of the lesson plan delivery, instructors completed a ten-question evaluation survey. Seven questions were Likert scale questions related to: lesson relevancy and engagement, effectiveness of attention grabber, utilization of multiple education strategies, lesson organization, comprehensive list of materials, accurate representation of time needed to present, and course content validity. Three questions were open-ended to assess: 1) the value of the training program 2) missing components in the lesson that the instructor struggled to teach, and 3) and other constructive comments. The survey was administered using Qualtrics®. Descriptive statistics were reported for each question, including frequencies, means and standard deviation. Efforts were made to follow all research appropriate methodology because the co-author used this project as part of her undergraduate Honors Research Project.



The National Safe Tractor and Machinery Operation Program was developed through a collaborative effort by Pennsylvania State University, Ohio State University and the agricultural division of the National Safety Council. Using this reference as a sole source and guide, the authors developed a curriculum composed of thirteen lesson plans with built-in activities to engage learners. See Figure 1 for the lesson plan topics selected.


Lesson Plan Topics


Why It Matters: Introduction to Machinery Operation and Safety

Jumper Cables

Reaction Time

Operating the Tractor

Personal Protective Equipment

Operating the Tractor with a Loader

Hand Signals

3-Point Hitch or Drawbar Connections

Tractor Parts Identification


Decoding Colors

Making Power Take-Off Connections

Instrument Panel and Operation Symbols


Figure 1. Lesson Plan Topics



Extension Program Results

Outreach education programs were offered to 2,324 participants within the states of Ohio, Indiana and nationally at the FFA Convention. Each venue had its own planning committee and format. Because of this, different topics were offered, with some lesson plans offered more frequently than others (Table 1). Reaction Time, Why It Matters and Tractor Parts Identification were the three most popular lessons taught at non-formal education events.



Table 1.  Breakdown of Lesson Topics Taught and Enrollment

Lesson Plan Topic Number of Times Taught Number of Participants Taught
Reaction Time 4 105
Why It Matters 4 105
Tractor Parts Identification 4 113
Tractor Operation 3 81
Hand Signals 2 2229
Operating a Tractor with Loader 2 51
Making PTO Connections 2 51
Decoding Colors 2 38
3-Point Hitch and Drawbar Connections 1 30
Personal Protective Equipment 1 8



Evaluations were collected at three Extension venues, asking participants to rate their knowledge before and after the program. Program evaluations were formatted slightly different at each venue, with scores reported by topic or in totality of the workshops' effectiveness (Table 2). At each workshop, participants reported a knowledge gain in subject matter by at least one full point on the Likert scale, ranging from 1.02 to 1.90 gain. Participants attending the Indiana workshop reported the lowest skill gain (0.65) due to the fact the weather did not permit any tractor operation.



Table 2.  Knowledge Gained through Program Participation

Workshop Topic and Date

Average Knowledge

BEFORE the Program

Low  1  2  3  4  5  High                              

Average Knowledge 

AFTER the Program

Low  1  2  3  4  5  High                             

Tractor Safety: Why It Matters and Reaction Time


2.1 (s.d. 1.19)


4.0 (s.d. 0.94)

Gain of 1.9

Parts of a Tractor


2.5 (s.d. 1.39)


3.9 (s.d. 1.14)

Gain of 1.4

Operating a Tractor


2.6 (s.d. 1.57)


3.9 (s.d. 1.23)

Gain of 1.3

PTO Connections, 3-Point Hitch and Drawbar Connections


2.4 (s.d. 1.39)


3.9 (s.d. 1.23)

Gain of 1.3

Overall Knowledge of Equipment Operation


3.25 (s.d. 0.87)


4.27 (s.d. 0.65)

Gain of 1.02

Overall Experience with Equipment Operation


3.25 (s.d. 0.97)


3.90 (s.d. 0.88)

Gain of 0.65

Overall Knowledge of Equipment Operation


2.7 (s.d. 1.53)


4.3 (s.d. 1.15)

Gain of 1.6




During the Women in Ag Tractor Night (Aug 1, 2017), 94% of the participants reported they intend to adjust or change how they operate a tractor or other machinery based on information learned at the session. Qualitative comments from this and other Extension programs indicate a change in safety knowledge for seat belt use, the importance of Roll Over Protective Structures (ROPS), appreciation of instructors' patience as they learned tractor operation skills, and a friendly environment to learn tractor operation basics.



Figure 2. Participants Attending a Women in Ag Tractor Night


Agricultural Classroom Results

Fifty-five instructors responded to the listserv invitation to pilot test the newly designed resources. The instructors identified themselves as extension educators, agricultural educators, pre-service agricultural educators and one university professor. Thirty-four individuals (61.8% response rate) completed a consent form and were given access to the curriculum materials via Google Drive. When data collection ended on March 29, 2019, eleven individuals (32.3% response rate) taught sessions involving 243 student participants; 136 males and 107 females, as referenced in Table 3. In total, the curriculum had an overall reach of nearly 2,500 individuals (including the curriculum development pilot test period) with three states of Ohio, Indiana, and Iowa utilizing the trainer packet of resources.



Table 3.  Breakdown of Curriculum Reach

Location of Educational Event Number of Students Females Males Age of Students
Norwayne High School 45 20 25 14 - 19
National Trail High School 75 40 35 14 - 16
Liberty Center High School 39 15 24 14 - 17
Alexander High School 20 6 14 15 - 18
Warren High School - - - -
North Union High School 17 9 8 17 - 18
Liberty Benton High School 13 4 9 14 - 16
Northridge High School 17 8 9 16 - 18
Marysville High School 12 1 11 15 - 18
University of Iowa 5 4 1 22 - 24
Total 243 107 136 14 - 24



All lessons were scored via Likert scale questions using the following key: 1=strongly disagreed, 2=disagreed, 3=neither disagreed nor agreed, 4=agreed, 5=strongly agreed. Per the instructor evaluations, all instructors (n=11) agreed per a short-answer that the curriculum was a valuable training program for their students (Table 4). These instructors also strongly agreed (30.7%) or agreed (69.2%) that each lesson included an engaging interest approach and all lessons were well organized and relevant to learners (strongly agreed: 61.5%, agreed: 38.4%). Instructors strongly agreed (30.7%) or agreed (53.8%) that the lessons used multiple strategies to engage learners, provided a complete list of materials to teach the lessons (strongly agreed: 46.1%, agreed: 46.1%), and included an accurate time in which it took to present the lesson (strongly agreed: 15.3%, agreed: 46.1%). Instructors strongly agreed (76.9%) or agreed (15.3%) that the course content was based on current, up-to-date information. Finally, instructors strongly agreed (69.2%) or agreed (23.0%) that the content in the lessons was interesting and relevant for a range of participants’ ability and prior background knowledge.



Table 4.  Instructors' Perception of Curriculum Using Likert Scale Levels of Agreement

Instructors' Perception of Curriculum (n-11) Strongly Agree Agree Alignment to Positively Phrased Statements
Each lesson included an engaging interest approach 30.7% 69.2% 99.9%
All lessons were well organized and relevant to learners 61.5% 38.4% 99.9%
Lessons used multiple strategies to engage learners 30.7% 53.8% 84.5%
Plans provided a complete list of materials to teach the lessons 46.1% 46.1% 92.2%
Plans provided an accurate time to present the lesson 15.3% 46.1% 61.4%
Course content was based on current, up-to-date information 76.9% 15.3% 92.2%
Content in lessons was interesting and relevant for a range of participants' ability and prior background knowledge 69.2% 23.0% 92.2%




Instructors had flexibility to choose their lesson plan topics. Because of this, some topics were offered more frequently than others, which also affected the number of students who received the lesson (Table 5). Reaction Time and Why It Matters were the two most popular lessons with the most sessions taught. They were also the lessons that involved the most students, as 118 students were taught Reaction Time and 125 students were taught Why It Matters.

Personal Protective Equipment, Hand Signals, and Hydraulics were the second most popular lessons. Personal Protective Equipment was taught to 97 students, Hand Signals was taught to 34 students, and Hydraulics was taught to 39 students.

The third most taught lessons were Tractor Parts Identification, Instrument Panel and Operation Symbols, Jumper Cables, Tractor Operation, and Making Power Take-Off Connections (n=2). Tractor Parts Identification was taught to 80 students, Instrument Panel and Operation Symbols lesson was taught to 23 students, Jumper Cables was taught to 23 students, Tractor Operation was taught to 80 students, and Making Power Take-Off (PTO) Connections was taught to 80 students.

The least popular lessons were Decoding Colors, Operating the Tractor with a Loader, and 3-Point Hitch and Drawbar Connections. Because these lessons were taught the least, they were also taught to the least number of students. The authors were uncertain why these particular lessons were taught the least, however, the inability to gain access to some farm machinery is one hypothesis. Decoding Colors was taught to 18 students, Operating a Tractor with a Loader was taught to five students, and Making 3-Point Hitch and Drawbar Connections was also taught to five students. Despite their low frequency of being taught, these lessons scored “average” (4.00) for lesson interest and relevancy, interest approach, multiple teaching strategies, organization and structure, and list of materials.

Two instructors did not teach the curriculum, but instead provided a comprehensive critique of the lessons. Their quantitative and qualitative responses were aggregated with other reviews.



Table 5.  Breakdown of Lesson Topics Taught and Enrollment  

Lesson Plan Topic

Rank Order of

Most Frequently Taught

Number of Students Taught
Reaction Time 1 118
Why It Matters 2 125
Personal Protective Equipment 3 97
Hand Signals 4 34
Hydraulics 5 39
Tractor Parts Identification 6 80
Instrument Panel and Operations Symbol 7 23
Jumper Cables 8 23
Tractor Operation  9 80
Making PTO Connections 10 80
Decoding Colors 11 18
Operating a Tractor with Loader 12 5
3-Point Hitch and Drawbar Connections 13 5




The authors found many comments in support of the curriculum per the instructor evaluations. In terms of the curriculum’s value, one instructor said, “The lessons were designed in a way that allowed me to relate the instruction to real life events. These events provided students the opportunity to engage in real-life actions and safety precautions that are required by employers and laws. This created a profound amount of applicable conversations that students will use in their future careers.” One instructor commented on the academic value to their students, and said, “The students’ vocabulary expanded during the activities.”

Many instructors enjoyed the straightforward approach of each lesson plan, with one evaluator saying, “All [lessons] were simple, straight forward, and easy to present.” Many instructors liked the style of the activities within the lessons, mentioning, “The hands-on learning experiences were extremely valuable for the students. Students developed a deeper, conceptual understanding of the content when they engaged in experiential learning. The more active learning strategies were more engaging for the students,” and “The examples and activities were really meaningful for the students. The activities were interesting, and it allowed the students to get up and move a little in the lesson.”

Instructors also had valuable suggestions for improvement. Some instructors struggled with a lack of students’ previous background knowledge on the topics. In addition, some suggested the authors provide more instructional background within each lesson plan. One instructor mentioned, “Provide links to OSU safety videos that are currently created so that instructors do not have to search for these videos…I feel that this will greatly help the cause of preparing students to become more well versed in the areas of agricultural safety.”

Many instructors found the time estimated to complete the lesson was inaccurate as this time was an approximation on the authors’ behalf. The number of students being taught, the amount of previous background knowledge and experience of students, and the amount of questions students ask during the lesson were factors that affected the lesson plans’ length of time to teach.



Creating and evaluating educational materials for safe tractor and machinery operation was the goal of this project, pilot testing the curriculum in both Women and Youth audiences. The Extension evaluations provided evidence of knowledge gain in the women participants. The classroom instructors found the curriculum to be a valuable training tool for their young audiences. According to the high school instructor evaluations, it was determined that each lesson:

  • Used multiple strategies to engage learners (84.5%)
  • Was interesting and relevant for a range of participants’ ability and prior background knowledge (92.2%)
  • Included an engaging interest approach (99.9%)
  • Was well organized and relevant to learners (99.9%)
  • Provided a complete list of materials to teach the lessons (92.2%)
  • Included an accurate time in which it took to present the lesson (61.4%)
  • Was based on current, up-to-date information (92.2%)

A limitation of Objective Three within project was a lack of courses offered during the proposed teaching period. Due to a delay approval from the Institutional Review Board and the end date scheduled for the co-author’s data collection deadline, few instructors had time to implement the lessons into their curriculum. Likewise, extension educators did not schedule adult workshops with female farmers during the December to March period due to weather conditions and other required programs. Therefore, most data were collected from high school agricultural educators.

Following the evaluation period, authors will make the tractor and machinery safety and operation curriculum widely available. The public will be able to access all lessons at The Ohio State University Agricultural Safety and Health Program website and the SAY Clearinghouse.


Implications for Women in Agriculture

Occupational injuries and fatalities do not discriminate against gender. For at risk populations such as young or inexperienced, elderly, and disabled workers, the need for precaution when working around heavy machinery is even greater.

Using the 3E model for safety, where engineering, enforcement, and education are involved, it is possible to offer agriculturalists ways to prevent injuries and fatalities when working on the farm. In particular, education about agricultural safety can take many forms.

Throughout this project, it was evident that female agriculturalists felt most comfortable learning from other women in agriculture; their qualitative comments indicated satisfaction with learning and networking. Comments received were: "Very informative and educational for those who know nothing about tractors", "I was never well at operation, now I can operate tractors better", and "I plan to use the skills I learned today."

Many pilot sessions were taught in informal group-settings where there was a set expectation that there was no risk of asking a senseless question. Because of this, women in these settings felt more comfortable opening up about their insecurities with working around farm machinery. Because most of the women were at the same experience and knowledge level, it created a safe space for these women to learn something new.

In the future, more women in agriculture events should focus on teaching agricultural safety education in informal group settings. The value gained from these sessions is that no matter the age of the audience, women can learn valuable agricultural safety information while feeling empowered to operate agricultural equipment in a more sensitive learning environment.



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