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Spate of serious tractor incidents prompts warning

A run of deaths and serious injuries involving tractors has prompted a call for agriculture businesses to ensure all workers, young and old, are aware of how to operate tractors safely.

Tractors are essential for a range of rural operations and activities, but they need to be operated with the utmost care. They are versatile and can have numerous functions, not only on farms, but many other workplaces. Tractors are safe when they’re operated properly but like any equipment, dangerous if used incorrectly.

A recent fatality in the Innisfail area being investigated by Workplace Health and Safety Queensland found a worker was fatally crushed when he was ejected from a tractor and trapped underneath as it rolled over.

Early investigations indicate he was not wearing a seat belt while driving along a road hauling an empty sugar cane bin.

Rollover risks for tractors are high, particularly when being driven on uneven ground, slight and steep slopes, edges of depressions, contour banks or water courses – especially if towing or pulling loads.

Operators must read and follow the manufacturer's operating instructions and be trained in the tractor’s safe operating procedures. It goes without saying no-one should ever climb on or off a moving tractor.

A Queensland company was fined $450,000 after a young worker was killed when he fell from and was run over by a trailer being towed by a tractor. And this year will see a coronial inquest into the death of an international backpacker working on a Tamborine avocado farm. Two Germans were traversing a slope on a large 4WD ride on mower towing a trailer when it rolled over, fatally crushing one of them.

Tractor operators are most at risk of injury when:

  • the tractor does not have a roll over protective structure
  • the operator does not wear a seatbelt
  • the equipment is poorly maintained
  • working on uneven terrain or rough, slick and muddy surfaces
  • towing or pulling objects or loads
  • travelling through pastures where high vegetation obscures stumps and potholes
  • working near dams, ditches, irrigation channels, embankments or over-hanging structures
  • travelling at high speeds (e.g. on roads).

Incidents occur when risks aren’t properly assessed and controlled. Young and inexperienced workers need more supervision and communication than experienced workers, which is why employers and supervisors have a duty of care to train and supervise them in proper safety procedures. Risk controls include:

  • a rollover protective structure (ROPS) which must be fitted to the tractor in accordance with s.216 Roll-over protection on tractors of the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2011
  • a seat belt which prevents the operator from being ejected during use or a roll-over
  • maintaining logbooks to record scheduled maintenance and repairs and any modifications which might affect the safe operation of the tractor
  • designing tractor implements so that the person fitting the implement does not have to stand between the tractor and implement while the tractor engine is running
  • never allowing people to ride on tractor carryalls.
  • when operating a tractor at night or in low light conditions ensuring the tractor is fitted with effective lighting (e.g. headlights, work lights at the rear of the tractor, etc).

Further information

Read more information, including the guide to operating tractors safely.