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Push to boost tractor safety in agriculture

17 February 2006
Push to boost tractor safety in agriculture

A spate of fatal accidents involving agricultural tractors has prompted the Department of Labour to increase its focus on educating farmers about health and safety.

Chief advisor, health and safety Mike Cosman said the Department was investigating a string of fatalities involving rollovers of tractors and other farm machinery.

In the latest incident, an 84-year old Northland farmer was found pinned under a tractor yesterday. It’s thought the man, who lived alone, had been run over by the tractor after he’d gotten off to close a farm gate. His body was only discovered days later after friends became concerned he didn’t make an appointment.

In the last three months, four farmers have died after being trapped under or thrown from tractors. The non-use of seat belts or leaving tractors running and in gear are considered to be significant factors in each case.

Mr Cosman said the non-use of seat belts was of particular concern.

“While the ‘seat belts save lives’ message has gotten through to road users, the same message should apply just as strongly on farms,” he said.

Last week, a Kaikoura farmer died after the tractor he was driving lost traction and rolled. He was thrown out and crushed. A seat belt and rollover protection was fitted in the tractor cab, but not used.

Mr Cosman said there was every indication the man would have survived had he been wearing a seat belt. Investigations showed the seat belt had hardly, if ever, been worn.

“Yet another person's life is wasted because the equipment supplied and fitted is not used. In this case the tractor had 10,000 hours of use and yet the seat belt looked brand new.

“Seat belts in tractors are a lifesaver, especially when used in conjunction with rollover protection. But a rollover protective structure without a means to keep the driver in the safety zone is next to useless.”

The attitude that seat belts and helmets saved lives on the open road, but weren’t necessary on the farm, needed to change, he said. The Department would make this a priority in its work programme for the agricultural industry, and had arranged to meet with Federated Farmers shortly in order to develop a joint approach.

“We would urge all farming families to make it their policy that seat belts are fitted and used in all farm vehicles at all times when there is any risk of an overturn. You wouldn’t let your children ride unrestrained in the car so why let your husband or wife run the same risk?”

Last year alone, 23 agricultural workers died – almost half in vehicle rollovers. The total number of farming fatalities reported to the Department of Labour since 1 July 2005 is 12.

Recent fatal accidents reported to the Department of Labour involving agricultural tractors:

16 February – 84-year old Northland farmer killed after being run over by his tractor

6 February – 49-year old Kaikoura farmer crushed under his tractor

1 November – 39-year old South Canterbury farmer crushed under his tractor

1 November – 47-year old Northland farmer crushed under his tractor

The Department of Labour’s advice for tractor safety:

- Get to know the intended work area and select equipment that’s appropriate for the location and the task. Consider ground conditions, slope, holes or ditches, power lines etc

- Understand how your equipment works and any safety features – this is especially important if hiring unfamiliar equipment

- Specify a ROPS frame and seat belt and use the seat belt at all times

- In the event of a roll over, stay within the protective cage - don't try and jump out as you may get trapped by the vehicle or the frame

- Before getting off a tractor disengage the drive, put the handbrake on and switch off the ignition if possible

- Guard all power takeoff shafts and other dangerous parts

- Ensure all power is turned off before clearing blockages

- Make sure you have some way of contacting people in an emergency – carry a mobile phone

- Make sure someone knows where you are and when you’re expected back

To the journalist: please note that health and safety services formally referred to as Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) should now be referred to as the Department of Labour.


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