In March 2019, a worker was killed on a rural property when he was crushed by the wheels of a planting machine that was being towed by a tractor.
The worker was operating the tractor and, for reasons not yet established, got off while it was moving forward. He then walked around the planting machine to its front wheel, where he was out of sight of the other six workers seated on the planting machine. As the tractor crept forward without its operator, the worker became trapped under the wheel of the planting machine and was fatally crushed. Investigations are continuing.
Preventing a similar incident
Tractors are essential for agricultural, green keeping, gardening, landscaping and other activities. They are usually quite safe when operated properly, but become dangerous if incorrectly used. They have been involved in more deaths than any other piece of rural machinery. Tractor run-overs are mainly linked to:
- starting a tractor from the ground
- carrying passengers (usually children) on tractors
- attempting to get on or off a moving tractor.
The designer and/or manufacturer should provide, and the supplier should distribute, information about what the tractor has been designed to do. This information should include any precautions necessary to ensure the safe operation of the tractor. PCBUs and operators can find this information in operators' manuals, information guides and training programs. It should cover:
- tractor specifications: power, output, load carrying capacity and ability to pull loads
- tractor operational data: power take-off procedures, implement specifications, and manufacturers' instructions for use
- tractor servicing and maintenance.
Operators of tractors should:
- only climb on or off a tractor that is stopped. Do not dismount from a tractor while the engine is running unless the transmission is in the neutral, or park position and the parking brake is effectively engaged
- read and follow the manufacturer's operating instructions and be trained in the tractors' safe operating procedures
- drive tractors at speeds slow enough to keep control over unexpected hazards
- be cautious in wet conditions
- reduce speed before turning or applying turning brakes
- descend slopes cautiously with the tractor in low gear. Extra care needs to be taken if towing trailers or implements down slopes, as often the trailers will not have brakes
- when an attachment becomes blocked, the tractor should be stopped, the drive to the attachment disconnected and the moving parts of the implement stopped before the obstruction is cleared
- exercise extreme caution when operating a tractor or any attached equipment around children or animals
- if a job requires frequent mounting/dismounting, consider using another piece of equipment such as a motorbike or small utility vehicle.
When ending tractor operations, the following precautions should be taken:
- park on even ground
- shift the gear selector to neutral or park position
- disconnect power sources and secure implements
- lower blades, buckets or any other attachments to the ground and/or securely block these attachments
- lock the parking brake
- stop the engine and remove the keys.
Also, workers riding on machinery such as a planting machine behind a tractor is a practice that should only occur in specific situations where it is required. PCBUs, through a thorough risk assessment process, should consider higher order controls including automated processes where possible.
Controls for a planter should include that workers:
- are placed behind any travelling wheels
- are secure in their seating position
- have direct line of sight for communication between the planter and the tractor
- do not alight from the tractor or the planter until the tractor has been brought to a complete stop, the transmission is disengaged and the brake is applied.
Since 2012, on average each year eight workers' compensation claims are accepted from workers trapped or hit by agricultural mobile plant. Sixty-three per cent of these involve serious injuries with five or more days off work.
In the same period, we have been notified of 129 incidents involving tractors. Seven of these incidents resulted in deaths.
Prosecutions and compliance
In 2018, a company faced two charges and was fined a total of $450,000 after a young worker was killed when he was loading irrigation pipes onto a trailer while another worker operated the tractor towing the trailer. While completing the task, the worker was riding on the moving trailer. He fell and was run over, sustaining multiple injuries. He died the next day. The worker was on the trailer as there was nowhere else for him to locate himself and no other arrangements had been made as part of the work task.
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 on 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.
- 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, 0.65 MB)
- Farm safety information (PDF, 0.64 MB)