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Worker seriously injured after being pulled under farm trailer

In August 2022, a worker was seriously injured after he was pulled underneath a trailer being used to harvest pineapples.

Early investigations indicate he was sitting on the trailer while it was being towed by a tractor. His foot was trapped under one of the trailer’s wheels and he was pulled under the trailer.

Investigations are continuing.

Safety issues

Plant commonly used at a rural workplace includes but is not limited to:

  • machinery e.g. planters, harvesters, balers, cultivators, pickers, grain augers, and elevators
  • powered mobile plant e.g. tractors, front-end loaders (FELs), harvesters and mowers
  • on-farm vehicles e.g. quad bikes, motor bikes, farm utes and modified vehicles (such as bull catchers)
  • tools and equipment powered by an energy source or manually operated
  • a component or anything fitted or connected to the item of plant e.g. a tractor-mounted post-driver.

Tractors can be fitted with a variety of attachments and implements, with each particular attachment introducing a new set of hazards, even if the tractor itself is set up for safe use.

Source: Safe Work Australia - General guide for managing the risks of machinery in rural workplaces

Where workers ride on plant, attachments or trailed implements used at rural workplaces the hazards and risks for all workers riding on the plant needs to be considered during the risk management process.

Ways to manage health and safety

Taking steps to manage risks is a condition of doing business in Queensland. Effective risk management starts with a commitment to health and safety from those who manage the business. If an incident occurs, you'll need to show the regulator you’ve used an effective risk management process. This responsibility is covered by your primary duty of care in the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

Use the hierarchy of controls to help decide how to eliminate and reduce risks in your place of work. The hierarchy of controls ranks types of control methods from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest. It’s a step-by-step approach to eliminating or reducing risks. You must work through the hierarchy of controls when managing risks, with the aim of eliminating the hazard, which is the most effective control.

Possible control measures to prevent similar incidents

A person conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU) has duties under WHS legislation to control the risks associated with agricultural harvesting tasks in a farm environment. PCBUs must first consider controls that most effectively eliminate the risk or, where not reasonably practicable, that minimise the risks.

Effective control measures for plant are often made up of a combination of controls. This includes eliminating the practice of workers sitting on trailers behind tractors by limiting this activity to specific situations where it is considered essential. This should only take place following a thorough risk assessment process, where higher order controls have been considered including automating processes where possible.

Developing and implementing a safe system of work to manage the potential risks associated with farm operations that involve workers seated on machinery or trailers towed by rural plant including tractors. This could include but is not limited to:

  • rural plant operators reading and following the manufacturer's operating instructions and be trained in the rural plant’s safe operating procedures in addition completing specialised training for the particular farm needs. This includes seeking advice from the operating manual or supplier about the recommended weight of a trailer or implement that the tractor can safely tow before towing it.
  • situations where workers are working on machinery behind rural plant for example; on a planting machine behind a tractor. Controls should include that workers:
    • are placed behind any travelling wheels
    • are secure in the designated seating position
    • have direct line of sight for communication between the planter and the tractor and using clear concise signals or another type of effective communication
    • do not alight from the tractor or the planter until the tractor has been brought to a complete stop, the transmission is in neutral and the brake is applied. In many situations this also includes ensuring the engine is turned off and the keys removed.
  • providing easy to understand information, training and instruction to workers, including how to undertake work tasks. Ensure experienced workers are involved in any training. Keep records of training completed.
  • ensuring all workers undergo induction at the beginning of their employment
  • consulting with workers on rural plant issues that may affect their health or safety. Consultation can take the form of an informal discussion or during the inspection of the workplace.
  • carrying out inspections of rural plant and associated activities as part of your risk management process and as an ongoing activity. Someone who is competent should undertake an inspection of your rural plant. Inspection can accomplish the following:
    • identify potential problems of operation not referred to in the manufacturer’s instructions
    • identify deficiencies in the rural plant or the equipment associated with the use of the plant. Among the basic causes of problems are normal wear and tear, corrosion, and damaged rural plant parts
    • identify worker actions associated with the use of rural plant. This will identify where further training is required
    • identify effects of changes in processes or materials associated with rural plant. Changes may gradually occur that produce a different outcome than that originally assessed
  • wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) for the work to be performed including but not limited to gloves, protective footwear, hearing protection, safety glasses or sunglasses, hats, long-sleeved collared shirt, long pants and sunscreen. Ensure all workers wear PPE if supplied and they are instructed in the proper use.

The control measures you put in place should be regularly reviewed to make sure they are effective. If the control measure is not working effectively it must be revised to ensure it is effective in controlling the risk.

More information

Support for people affected by a serious workplace incident

For advice and support: