In October 2019, a man died on a rural property died after being crushed by the tractor he was operating. Initial findings suggest he was reversing the tractor into a deep excavation, when for reasons yet to be established, the tractor rolled.
In a separate incident a month later, a person was seriously injured when they lost control of a fertiliser spreader on a slope and rolled it over.
These findings are not yet confirmed and investigations are continuing into the exact cause.
Preventing a similar incident
Tractors and other agricultural mobile plant are essential for a range of rural operations and activities. They are versatile and can have numerous functions, not only on farms, but many other workplaces. Tractors are safe when operated properly, however, like any equipment, they can be dangerous if used incorrectly.
Operating tractors and other items of agricultural mobile plant on uneven ground, slight and steep slopes, edges of depressions, contour banks or water courses presents rollover dangers, as does towing or pulling loads.
Persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) must ensure the provision and maintenance of safe plant. Effective risk management starts with a commitment to health and safety from those who operate and manage the business or undertaking. Higher order risk controls include designing plant to be without risks to health and safety. Safety features which should be addressed at the tractor design, manufacture and operational stages that can also be applied to other mobile plant include:
- roll-over protective structures (ROPS)
- falling object protective structures (FOPS)
- protection from noise and ultraviolet radiation exposure
- other measures for operator health and safety (e.g. seat belts).
Managing work health and safety risks is an ongoing process. Risk management involves four steps:
- Identify hazards - find out what could cause harm.
- Assess risks - understand the nature of the harm that could be caused by the hazard, how serious the harm could be and the likelihood of it happening.
- Control risks - implement the most effective control measure that is reasonably practicable in the circumstances.
- Review control measures - to ensure they are working as planned.
Once the risks have been assessed, the next step is to control risks associated with the mobile plant. These control measures are ranked from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest and are known as the hierarchy of control. PCBUs must work through this hierarchy to choose the control which most effectively eliminates or, where that is not reasonably practicable, minimises the risk. Risk control measures can include:
- Substitution – replacing an old tractor or other mobile plant without rollover protection with a model that has a factory fitted ROPS or retrofitting existing plant with an approved ROPS where possible. The WHS Regulation 2011 contains regulatory provisions regarding ROPS on tractors that must be complied with.
- Engineering controls – a ROPS is a structure designed and constructed to prevent or minimise the risk of death or injury to the operator as a result of the tractor or other agricultural mobile plant rolling over in any direction. A seat belt also prevents the operator from being ejected during use or a roll-over. Where the tractor or other agricultural mobile plant is fitted with a seatbelt and a ROPS is present, the seatbelt should be worn by the operator. Logbooks should be maintained to record scheduled maintenance and repairs and any modifications which might affect the safe operation of the tractor.
- Administrative controls – if any risk remains, it must be minimised by implementing administrative controls, for example conducting inspections, as well as servicing and maintenance in line with the manufacturer's recommendations. 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. The PCBU must also provide adequate training to all tractor operators, including the development of safe work procedures in line with the manufacturer's instructions for the operation of a tractor or other agricultural mobile plant. Safe work procedures may include:
- Driving tractors and other agricultural mobile plant at speeds slow enough to keep control over unexpected hazards and added caution in wet conditions. Operator should watch out for ditches, embankments, and depressions – unstable banks can cause overturns.
- Reducing speed before turning or applying turning brakes. Where a differential lock and turning brakes are fitted, ensure that the differential lock is disengaged, and the turning brakes are locked together before travelling from one work site to another.
- Descending slopes cautiously with the tractor or other agricultural mobile plant in low gear.
- When a tractor is bogged in mud or in a ditch, drive out in reverse gear. Logs and planks should only be used behind the rear wheels to increase traction, as using logs and planks in front of the rear wheels increases the chance of back flipping.
- Only climb on or off a tractor or other agricultural mobile plant that is stopped. Do not dismount while the engine is running unless the transmission is in the neutral, or park position and the parking brake is effectively engaged.
- If towing a trailer, ensure the load is evenly balanced and well secured. Always operate the vehicle at low 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.
From 2014-15 to 2018-19, there have been 49 accepted workers' compensation claims relating to workers being struck by a tractor.
Between July 2014 and November 2019, WHSQ has issued 196 statutory notices addressing general risk management of tractors across all industries.
Prosecutions and compliance
In 2014, a company was fined $35,000 after a worker suffered internal injuries and fractured ribs when his tractor failed to navigate a bend on a farm road and drove over an embankment. The man was not wearing the fitted seatbelt and was thrown out and run over by the tractor he was operating.
- Safe design and operation of tractors Code of Practice 2005 (PDF, 0.5 MB)
- Rural plant Code of Practice 2004 (PDF, 0.63 MB)
- How to Manage Work Health and Safety Risks Code of Practice 2021 (PDF, 1.02 MB)
- Farms safety information – fact sheet (PDF, 0.64 MB)