Journal of the NACAA
ISSN 2158-9429
Volume 8, Issue 1 - June, 2015


Impacts of Farm Tractor Safety Training for Youth & Adults in Southern Maine

Brzozowski, R., Extension Educator - Agriculture, University Of Maine Cooperative Ext.


Offering annual Farm Tractor Safety trainings have been identified as important by farmers who employ youth in southern Maine.  Cooperative Extension has presented an effective 5-session course annually for over 25 years.  The course includes classroom sessions, a shop session and tractor operation. For the past ten years, participants have been surveyed to determine impacts.  Every participant reported gaining knowledge and skills in safe tractor operation.  Ninety-six percent of the responding participants reported developing a positive safety attitude.  Over 33% became employed or maintained employment as a result of their participation.   Not one participant reported being injured since their training.


"Since 1969, the U.S. Department of Labor has declared many agricultural tasks to be hazardous to youth younger than 16. With certain exemptions, employment of youth under 16 for tasks that require operation of a tractor and machinery is illegal unless the youth are certified. By successfully completing this certification program, 14 and 15 year old youth may be legally employed" (National Safe Tractor and Machinery Operation Program, 2015).

A certified Farm Tractor Safety Course has been offered annually in Cumberland County, Maine since 1988.  The establishment of the annual course came about as a result of a request in 1987 of Cooperative Extension by a member of Young Farmers’ Program of the Maine Farm Bureau.  Farmers wanted the safety course to be offered annually to meet their perennial need of youth for hay crews and tractor operators with a minimum of basic safety training.  As of 2015, an estimated 600 individuals have participated in the practical course in Cumberland County since that point in time.  The course was originally designed for teenagers currently working on farms or planning to work on farms.  However, the number of adults participating in the course has dramatically increased over time.  Thirty to fifty percent of the class is now comprised of adults.  Most of these adults are new tractor operators.  Since 2005, a survey of participants administered electronically has been used to determine the effectiveness of the course.


The course includes three classroom sessions, one shop session, practice driving and one testing session.   Each session is 2 hours in length.  The manual for the course is the National Safe Tractor and Machinery Operation Program published by Pennsylvania State University, the Ohio State University and the National Safety Council. This reference is also known as the H.O.S.T.A. Notebook.  HOSTA stands for Hazardous Occupations Safety Training in Agriculture. 

A team of Extension personnel in Maine developed sets of questions related to the weekly reading assignments.  These study questions help students better understand concepts related to safe tractor operation.  The course is fairly consistent from county to county within Maine.

All farm equipment dealers in the region as well as the local chapter of the Maine Farm Bureau help to sponsor the annual course.   Sponsors help promote the annual course to their clientele by displaying posters and the course schedule every spring.  No monetary support is required of sponsors.  Participant registration fees and Cooperative Extension fund the course.  Each student receives the reference manual, a pair of safety glasses and hearing protection plugs.

In addition to classroom and shop sessions, participants are required to document a minimum of 10 hours of tractor operation.  This driving log is signed by a parent, guardian or employer.  The sessions are scheduled weekly and held on a weekday evening at a central location.  The Extension Educator serves as the course coordinator and lead instructor.  Homework is assigned each week.  Assignments include readings, problem solving, and researching the occurrence of a farm accident in Maine via interviews or an on-line search.  The shop session is held at a John Deere dealership and includes two activities and demonstrations.  The activities include a farm tractor part identification exercise and a pre-operational check exercise.  One demonstration explains how a fuel injector functions to atomize diesel fuel. Another demonstration uses a model tractor with a front-end loader on an incline in a tipping demonstration.  Personnel from the dealership organize and present the activities and demonstrations for the shop session. 

To successfully complete the course, each participant must pass a written exam with a score of at least 80% and a tractor-driving exam.  The written exam consists of multiple choice, true or false, and fill-in-the blank questions.  For those students with learning disabilities, the instructor or an assistant administers the test vocally.  The tractor-driving exam involves forward movement by maneuvering the tractor with a two-wheel trailer through a series of gates and turns then backing the trailer down a narrow alley.  Students are able to retest for either test if necessary after a period of time – usually 2 weeks.

Course participants were invited to complete a 10-question survey via an email message with a link to the survey.  Course rosters were the source of the email addresses.  The types of survey questions included yes/no options as possible responses as well as open-ended questions.  A sample of the yes/no question was "Did taking the farm safety course help you to develop a positive safety attitude?"  A sample of an open-ended question was "What difference did taking the farm tractor safety course make with you and/or your family?"


Nearly all participants successfully complete the course.  Although they are encouraged to retake failed exams, a few individuals choose not to formally complete the course.  It is estimated over the past 10 years, 90% of the course participants successfully pass the written exam and 75% pass the driving exam.

In the spring of 2011, approximately 100 participants of the farm tractor safety courses from the previous 5 years were surveyed to determine impact.  The replies of 26 individuals responding to the survey are summarized as follows.  As a result of the training, 36% of the respondents had been hired or maintained jobs on local farms.  One hundred percent said the course helped them develop a positive safety attitude.  Not one respondent had been seriously hurt in a farm injury requiring hospitalization or a doctor’s office visit since taking the course.  Many have influenced co-workers or bosses regarding farm safety.  A few course participants started or expanded service–related businesses such as garden tilling, field mowing and farm implement fabrication.

In 2015, approximately an additional 100 participants of the farm tractor safety courses since 2011 were surveyed to determine impact of the course.  The responses of 25 individuals (12 teens and 13 adults) are summarized as follows.  One hundred percentage responded with “yes”, when asked, if they had gained important knowledge and skills as a result of taking the farm tractor safety course. As a result of their participation in the training, 40% of the respondents were hired or were able to maintain jobs on farms.  Ninety-two percent said the course helped them develop a positive safety attitude.  Not one respondent had been seriously hurt in a farm injury since taking the course.  Several participants (44%) stated that they have influenced co-workers, bosses or family members regarding farm safety.  This group described instances in which they taught someone else how to work safely.   For example, one of the respondents noted “I have shared the manual with my husband and persuaded him to wear the seatbelt while driving our tractor with ROPS. He has previously eschewed wearing the belt, but now has learned there is a 100% survival rate in tractor rollovers when seatbelt and ROPS are used simultaneously. I believe this information has the potential to save his life.”


It is evident that nearly all course participants over a ten-year period developed a safety attitude as a result of their participation in the course and that the course had a positive effect on their work habits.   Not one respondent reported they sustained injuries requiring a visit to the doctor or hospitalization. It can also be deduced that work habits and behavior of responding participants were positively affected as a result of the development of an improved safety attitude.

It is also evident that more than a third of the course participants over a ten-year period became employed or maintained employment as a result of their participation in the farm tractor safety training.

The response rate for these two surveys was approximately 25%.  This rate could have been increased with follow-up email messages or phone calls.  Only the initial request for their response via email was made.  Because email addresses used to send the survey could have been out of date at the time of the survey, some course participants might not have received the request.  The number of individuals responding to the survey (51) represents a fairly accurate representation of course participants in total for a ten-year period (approximately 200).

Literature Cited

National Safe Tractor and Machinery Operation Program (2015). Retrieved from