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Farm company fined over tractor death

Media Release

1 April 2014

Farm company fined over tractor death

Waikato company, Sundale Farms Limited, has been fined $25,400 over the death of a worker killed by a runaway remote controlled tractor.

Gursharan Singh was on his second day on the job harvesting broccoli in March last year when he was pulled under the wheels of a tractor at Sundale Farm’s Pukekawa farm.

Mr Singh was attempting to reach the tractor’s controls after it had accelerated unexpectedly from its normal speed of 0.3 kilometres an hour to 6.7 kilometres an hour. He was caught by the left hand rear wheel of the tractor and pulled to the ground and run over.

The tractor, which was towing a trailer for the loading of broccoli, was operated via a remote control system so that a driver was not required to sit at the controls.

Sundale Farms pleaded guilty to one charge under the Health and Safety in Employment Act of failing to take all practicable steps to ensure Mr Singh’s safety, and was sentenced today in the Pukekohe District Court.

WorkSafe NZ’s chief investigator, Keith Stewart, said Mr Singh was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident and was acting contrary to instructions. But Sundale Farms could have taken a number of simple steps to make its operation safer.

“The tractor was checked at the start of each day to see that it was working correctly, but there was no routine maintenance programme. Its systems should have been checked regularly, and preventative maintenance carried out.

“An inhibitor switch in the gear selector should also have been installed to ensure that remote operation was only possible in the low gear range. And an emergency stop system should have been installed on the harvesting trailer so the workers present on the trailer, when it ran away, could have stopped the tractor. Mr Singh was attempting to mount the tractor when he was killed.

“Remote control tractor systems are common in harvesting operations around the country. I hope the lessons learned from this incident will help prevent similar tragedies in future,” said Keith Stewart.

[Ends]

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