When equipment is stuck, frustration or lack of awareness of towing hazards may tempt producers to take safety shortcuts. However, safely towing equipment for any reason greatly reduces the risk of damage to machinery or serious injury to operators.
Cheryl Skjolaas, University of Wisconsin Extension Agricultural Safety and Health Specialist, notes that selection of proper towing tools is the first step to safely moving equipment.
“Don’t grab the first rope or chain you find in the shop,” Skjolaas says. “Whether it’s a rope, cable, chain or nylon towing strap, that device will be under significant tension and force. When selecting the proper towing device, consider soil conditions and surface conditions at the towing site.”
Selecting a towing device rated strong enough for the situation is the only safe and effective way to tow equipment. “Extracting Stuck Equipment Safely – How to Avoid Expensive and Painful Incidents” (, outlines some best practices for avoiding what are often unseen but deadly hazards common to towing scenarios.
“If the towing device or part of the device breaks, a chain or hook quickly becomes a dangerous projectile,” Skjolaas says. “A one-inch nylon rope has a stronger breaking strength than a cable or chain. However, if the rope breaks, it snaps back to the point of attachment. Steel cables that reach a breaking point will rebound in an unpredictable manner and warp around any object in their path.”
Take inventory of chains, cables and straps in your shop. Unless you’re certain of the condition of each one, dispose of them. Purchase quality straps and ropes with clevises rated to withstand towing strain.
A key practice for safely towing equipment is to begin by purchasing products designed for this type of recovery. In selecting appropriate gear, consider purchasing items such as a strap that are as long as possible. A 30-foot strap provides enough flexibility to locate a towing vehicle on stable ground. If less footage is required, the strap can be doubled up and both eyelets can be attached to the stuck equipment.
A long towing chain designed to support the towed load is recommended over nylon ropes or cables. Chains will break at their weakest point, so check welds and hooks prior to use. Serious, disabling injuries and deaths have occurred when a towing device failed. Tractor and truck cabs may not be strong enough to stop the force of this kind of recoiling device, which can be very bit as lethal as a bullet.
In selecting recovery equipment, keep in mind that the value of health and life cannot be reduced to a price range. If someone is injured or killed, expenses for medical treatment, insurance rates, damaged equipment, loss of time, etc. will quickly exceed the cost of quality products.
In training employees for using towing equipment, provide written instructions for proper towing techniques. Follow training with hands-on demonstrations so employees can practice extractions in real situations.
All recovery equipment should be stored where it can be easily accessed and regularly inspected. After use, inspection should be completed before storing the equipment. Any damage should be immediately repaired. If it’s unrepairable, or there’s any doubt about its viability, the equipment should be discarded.
During the extraction process, operators should remain vigilant and carefully monitor what’s happening, anticipating the unexpected. Since every scenario is different, extracting stuck equipment is never routine. Serious injury or death can occur in one split second if equipment should fail.
In using a nylon recovery strap, it’s important to be aware that the strap will stretch until it builds up tension to help pull the stuck vehicle. A running start can be used in conjunction with a nylon strap because the strap is designed to absorb a jerking motion. In using a strap, if the towing vehicle spins its wheels and the stuck vehicle cannot be moved in a couple of attempts, the towing vehicle doesn’t have enough power to get the job done.
It takes more pulling strength to move something mired n the ground than to pull the same object on a smooth surface because the stuck vehicle is “dead weight.” Stress placed on towing devices in this scenario can be up to many times the weight of the stuck object.
The towing device must be properly attached to the towing vehicle. In using a tractor, attach the towing device to the drawbar to significantly reduce the risk of a rear overturn. Truck bumpers are not recommended attachment points because pulling force can separate the bumper from the truck, causing it to become an airborne projectile.
Tractor and truck manuals provide safe towing instructions.
If more than one towing vehicle is required, attach each vehicle with a separate towing device. Attaching one towing device to two vehicles can result in excessive pulling force on the device, leading to damaged equipment, flying debris, etc.
Before any pulling begins, all bystanders and helpers need to move away from the area. Double check all attachments to ensure they’re secure. If more than one pulling vehicle is used, coordinate pulling efforts between operators. Establish a clear channel of communication such as hand signals. Make sure everyone involved has a clear understanding of what each hand signal means. All operators should wear their seatbelts.
When the towing process begins, apply power smoothly without jerking. At the slightest sign of danger – i.e. tractor front-end off the ground, slip in attachment of the towing device – the towing process should be halted and re-evaluated before proceeding.
“The safest way to pull a stuck machine is always to use proper pulling equipment in good conditions, attach it properly and apply power slowly,” Skjolaas says. “Often, in extracting equipment, relying on past experiences plays a role the extraction process. However, just because a process worked in the past, doesn’t mean it was safe. It may have been the result of a lot of luck.”
Funding for this educational article comes from the Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health and the University of Nebraska Medical Center.