In December 2017, a worker on a Tamborine Mountain avocado farm was killed when a single seat ride on mower being driven by another worker rolled over on a steep slope and crushed her.
A few weeks before, a worker was killed when the tractor he was driving went over the edge of a steep embankment on a banana farm in North Queensland. He was attempting a U-turn on a road when it appears he drove over the embankment and was thrown or jumped from the tractor. Although there were no witnesses, the injuries he sustained indicate the tractor rolled over him.
Environmental conditions may have contributed to the incident as it had been raining in the preceding days which left the road muddy and boggy. The tractor was fitted with a roll over protective system (ROPS) but was not fitted with a seatbelt.
Both investigations are continuing.
Preventing a similar incident
Tractors and other items of agricultural mobile plant are safe when operated properly, however, like any equipment, they become dangerous if used incorrectly. Before operating them, the person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) must ensure:
- the vehicle selected is the right vehicle for the task
- weather and ground conditions have been assessed
- a ROPS that complies with AS/NZ1636.1-1996 is fitted to tractors in accordance with WHS Regulation s216 Roll-over protection on tractors
- a seat belt is worn where fitted
- the manufacturer's operating instructions have been read and are followed. For older items of mobile plant where operating instructions are not available, operational procedures and instructions for use should be developed by a competent person.
When operating mobile plant:
- ensure it is driven to suit the environmental conditions and slow enough to retain control in unexpected circumstances
- reduce speed before turning or applying brakes
- use as wide a wheel track as possible when working on hillsides and sloping ground
- descend slopes cautiously, keeping the tractor in low gear to allow motor compression to act as a brake. Watch out for ditches, embankments, and depressions – unstable banks can cause overturns
- do not park on a steep slope
- ensure the park brake is on and operating effectively before dismounting
- if towing a trailer, ensure the load is evenly balanced, well secured and you operate at a lower speed.
If you are working in a remote area or working alone, always let someone know where you are going and when you are expected back.
Since 2012, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland has issued 60 improvement and 35 prohibition notices for risks associated with guarding, roll-over protection, falling objects protection, maintenance and safe plant. There have been 20 workers' compensation claims accepted for injuries caused by tractors rolling over or hitting people in agriculture, construction and other industries.
Prosecutions and compliance
In 2014, a company was fined $70,000 after a worker was killed while performing scrub pulling using two tractors connected by a chain. One of the tractors had mechanical problems and stopped. The worker got off the tractor to investigate but the second tractor continued on, pulling the first tractor over the worker. There was no communication system in place between the tractors.
Also in 2014, a company was fined $35,000 after a worker sustained fractured ribs and internal injuries when the tractor he was operating failed to navigate a bend in a farm road and drove over an embankment. He was not wearing the fitted seatbelt and was thrown out and run over by the tractor.