In Old West movies, gunslingers had to be quick on the draw. But even the fastest draw in the West would be no match for today’s powered farm machinery, said a University of Missouri farm safety specialist.

In an agricultural safety class, Karen Funkenbusch uses a digital timer that mimics the control panel found on farm machinery.

Students compete to see who is the quickest to hit an off switch when a green light randomly flashes red. A chart matches the student’s reaction time to the number of revolutions of a power takeoff (PTO) — a driveshaft typically connected to a tractor to power separate machinery.

The average human reaction time is three-quarters of a second. At 540 rpm, PTOs can pull in about 7 feet per second — fast enough to wrap the operator around the shaft before he can escape, she said. It would be far worse with units that turn 1,000 rpm.

“I show them that machines are always faster than they can possibly react,” she said.

“Students may think they are fast, but even if an operator can react in one-tenth of a second, in that short time the PTO would have pulled them in 8 inches, enough to entangle a hand or shirt sleeve,” she said. “Once entangled, there is little a person can do.”

Funkenbusch tells students to stay clear of all moving parts, keep safety shields and guards in place and always shut off the engine before working near a PTO.

Never wear clothes with loose sleeves or cuffs, drawstrings or frayed edges. Don’t wear scarves, jewelry that may dangle or long shoelaces. Long hair and braids also pose hazards around PTOs.

Use great care while operating corn heads, augers and machinery with belts and pulleys.

Age, physical condition, fatigue and the use of alcohol or medication all affect reaction time.

“No matter how fast the reaction time, it’s never enough to avoid injury from farm equipment. You must use safety precautions,” she said.