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Farm vehicles and harvesters

Farm vehicles and harvesters are a major cause of death and serious injury to workers and family members, including children, on farms. Operators, passengers, and bystanders are all at risk.

What are farm vehicles and harvesters?

Common types of farm vehicles include cars, utes, trucks, 4WDs, motorbikes, side-by-sides and quad bikes. They are used to transport people and objects from one part of the farm to another and to bring things to or take things from the farm to and from elsewhere.

There are many different types of harvesters available to suit the size and scale of different farming operations. Whether the harvester is a small, medium or large machine, its purpose is to cut and often collect crops of grains, fruits or vegetables.

What are the risks of farm vehicles and harvesters?

Most fatalities and serious injuries associated with farm vehicles involve collisions, rollovers with ejection and run overs. Many different factors add to the risks, including:

  • operators and passengers not wearing seatbelts
  • unrestrained passengers being carried in the tray or on trailers
  • unsupervised children around moving vehicles – find out more about the safety risks for children on farms
  • inexperienced drivers
  • poorly maintained vehicles.

Harvesters share the same risks of collision, rollover with ejection and runovers. Additional risks for harvesters include:

  • becoming entangled with the levelling or discharge augers in the grain tank
  • falling from the machine, especially during cleaning
  • contact with overhead power lines
  • contact with the knife, reel or stripper rotor
  • contact with the straw chopper or spreader
  • being trapped under the header or being injured by the header falling from its transport trailer
  • being injured by the drive mechanisms or trapped when automatic sensors operate
  • exposure to dust, potentially resulting in occupational asthma, farmer’s lung, grain fever, chronic bronchitis, allergic eye and nasal infections
  • exposure to noise, potentially resulting in hearing loss
  • crop materials igniting from a spark or heat from the machinery
  • strain, sprain and crush injuries associated with field palletising on harvesting aids.

Farm vehicles and harvesters contain many hazardous parts that are likely to cause injury.

  • Any rotating shafting (including joints, coupling, shaft ends and crank shafts), gearing (including friction roller mechanism), cable, sprocket, chain, clutch, coupling, cam or fan blade.
  • The run-on point of any belt, chain or cable. Belts themselves are not considered hazardous, provided that their joints are smooth and without hazardous projections or jointing.
  • Keyways, keys, grease nipples, set-screws, bolts or any other projections on rotating parts. Any pulley or flywheel that incorporates any openings, spokes or protrusions that make it anything other than totally smooth.
  • Any crushing or shearing points, for example, augers and slide blocks, roller feeds, conveyor feeds.
  • Ground wheels and track gear that incorporates any openings, spokes or protrusions which are adjacent to an operator's position (standing platform, seat, footrest) or passenger's seat.
  • Rotating knives, blades, tines or similar parts of power-driven machines, which operate in or near the ground or engage crops.
  • Any machine component which cuts, grinds, pulps, crushes, breaks or pulverises farm produce.
  • Hot parts of any machine where the surface temperature exceeds 120°C in normal operation.

How do I manage the risks?

Workers and managers can work together to reduce the risks of farm vehicles and harvesters.

For workers

As a worker, you must:

  • take care of your own health and safety as well as the health and safety of others
  • cooperate with management to meet health and safety requirements and reduce risks.

For businesses

As an employer or business owner, you have legal responsibilities as outlined in the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 for the health and safety of every worker and visitor.

The four-step risk management process below will help businesses to meet their responsibilities under work health and safety (WHS) laws.

You can also use the practical advice in the How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB).

Four steps to manage risk

The first step is to identify the hazards.

Think about the setting and who will be using the farm vehicles and harvesters and ask yourself:

  • Is the driver trained and licensed?
  • Is the farm vehicle or harvester properly designed for the job?
  • Is the vehicle or harvester maintained regularly?
  • Are all hazardous parts protected by guards?
  • Are effective measures in place to keep children away from driveways and moving vehicles?
  • Are appropriate guards installed to offer protection from moving machine parts?
  • What environmental and operational conditions may affect the safe use of the plant?
  • Are suitable rollover protective structures (ROPS) in place?

Talk to your workers and ask:

  • Are you aware of any potential hazards?
  • How can we improve our safety and our processes?
  • Do you know how to report a hazard?

Regularly review your own records, and consider:

  • What do your workers’ compensation claims, recorded incidents, sick leave and worker complaints tell you about past incidents and hazards?
  • What can you do to prevent the same things happening again?

Identifying hazards should be an ongoing activity and something organised at least once a year, or whenever there is a change in equipment, facilities or work practices.

Next, assess the level of risk posed by each hazard. The risk level is determined by:

  • how serious the potential harm is
  • how likely it is to happen.

You can use this risk assessment template (DOCX, 0.02 MB) to guide you and record your assessments.

The law requires you to eliminate the risks if practical, or to minimise them as much as possible.

You must work through the hierarchy of controls to choose the control that most effectively eliminates or minimises the risks. This may involve a single control measure or combination of two or more different controls.

Find the hierarchy of controls in How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB) .

For both farm vehicles and harvesters, ways to control the risks include:

  • ensuring the driver is trained and licensed – drivers must have a Queensland-issued driver licence to drive plant on the road, with suitable endorsement for the plant being driven
  • making sure the driver and all passengers use seatbelts
  • adopting safe driving methods
  • never operating the vehicle or harvester beyond its capacity
  • wearing slip resistant, protective footwear and close-fitting clothing
  • ensuring the driver takes regular breaks
  • introducing physical barriers and systems to keep children away from driveways and moving vehicles
  • maintaining the vehicle regularly to very high standards, and as recommended by the manufacturer
  • being particularly careful when reversing, sounding the horn before moving and ensuring the driver can see what is behind them
  • ensuring all hazardous parts are properly protected by guards (shield, cover, casing or physical barrier) to prevent contact between the machine part and a person or part of the person’s clothing
  • taking care when driving on steep ground, avoiding sudden changes of direction and braking, and turning cautiously on downhill and side slopes
  • parking across slopes, if possible, and ensuring the handbrake is fully applied before leaving the vehicle.

For farm vehicles:

  • never permitting passengers to ride in the vehicle’s tray.

For harvesters:

  • never carrying passengers unless there’s a seat provided
  • carrying out the 'safe stop' procedure before undertaking any maintenance
  • having a system for thorough pre-season maintenance checks to ensure that all brakes, guards and other safety devices are in effective working order
  • taking appropriate precautions when working at height during cleaning and maintenance operations
  • having a safe system of work for paddocks where there are overhead power lines, including:
    • knowing the height of the machine (at the highest point, including aerials)
    • knowing the height of overhead power lines
    • having a warning sign in a prominent position as a visible reminder
    • using appropriate farm maps as reminders when daily work is being planned
    • agreeing upon routes for travel with the local electricity supply company, which consider safe clearance distances
  • ensuring the correct rollover protective structures (ROPS) are in place
  • following correct procedures for working under the header (use the supports provided)
  • following correct procedures when transferring the header on and off its transport trailer
  • using any grain sampling mechanism provided, and never climbing or reaching into the grain tank unless the engine and all augers are stopped, and the ignition key has been removed
  • providing and using correct tools and a knife guard to aid safe removal, handling and storage of the cutting knives
  • working with the cab door shut to help control dust and noise
  • making sure all guards are in position and correctly fitted before starting work
  • using the machine’s instruments, and watching and listening for potential blockages
  • using drive reversing mechanisms, when fitted, to wind out blockages
  • regularly cleaning straw and chaff deposits from the engine compartment, and around belts and pulleys
  • making sure there is suitable fire-fighting equipment (for example, a fire extinguisher) available (and that the extinguisher is regularly checked).

You should regularly review your control measures. Don’t wait for something to go wrong. If necessary, change or adjust your approach. The aim is to maintain a work environment that is without risks to health and safety.

Work health and safety laws require you to review controls:

  • when you become aware a control measure is not working effectively
  • before a change that might introduce a new risk
  • when you find a new hazard or risk
  • when your workers tell you that a review is needed
  • after a health and safety representative requests a review.