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Thursday, 16 March 2017 11:05

Fatal traction

While quad bikes are largely considered to be the leading cause of on-farm injuries and deaths it was the tractor, which often slips under the farm safety radar, that accounted for more fatalities in 2016. Figures from the University of Sydney Australian Centre for Agricultural Health and Safety show there were nine tractor related on-farm deaths last year.  Mobile-plant machinery also caused nine, while quad bike incidents resulted in six deaths. In 2015 the Primary Industries Health and Safety Partnership (PIHSP) released a report mapping the Work Health and Safety (WHS) risks for people working in primary industries. The report found that while there have been improvements over the past 20 years with annual deaths in agriculture falling from around 150 per year to 60 per year, the industry is still one of most dangerous in Australia.  The dangers associated with the use of tractors, and ensuring users are well-informed as to how to stay safe, is a cause General Manager of “The Farm” at Byron Bay, Johno Hunter, takes seriously. “Tractors are one of the biggest killers on farms, and we have tractors here on our site,” Mr Hunter said. “I believe we have an obligation to provide safety workshops and I’m passionate about trying to stem the flow of accidents and deaths on farms.” “The Farm” is a 34 hectare property that produces beef, pork, eggs and vegetables which is used to supply other on-site businesses including the Three Blue Ducks restaurant. The Farm’s philosophy is built on their motto - Grow, Feed, Educate with education last month focusing on tractor safety. Responding to the rise in numbers of hobby farmers in the region, Mr Hunter identified the need for an Introductory Tractor Safety Workshop at “The Farm”, to educate part-time farmers, as well as people learning to operate tractors for the first time.  “There are certain elements that people don’t really think about when they jump on a tractor,” Mr Hunter said. “You can buy a tractor and you don’t need a license to drive one. It’s not like a car, you obviously need a license to buy and drive a car. “We want to educate people about how to operate these potentially dangerous machines correctly and safely – that’s our objective.” The first workshop was held in early 2017 and included safety demonstrations led by experienced tractor sales manager Robert Wruck.  Mr Wruck said complacency was the greatest contributing factor to tractor-related deaths. “I think people become complacent with their machines. They’ve done it a 1000 times, they think they know how to do it properly, but in-fact they’ve probably done it the wrong way 1000 times. Eventually this is going to lead to serious issues,” he said. “Unfortunately tractors don’t die very easily. There are tractors out there that are 50-years-old, and people are still operating them. Ultimately issues will arise with these machines, and more importantly these old tractors aren’t fitted with modern safety equipment." The five key messages Mr Wruck stressed to people attending the introductory workshop were:

  1. Make sure your tractor is fitted with a roll frame to prevent roll-over deaths and injuries
  2. Ensure power take-off (PTO) shafts are fitted with covers to prevent body parts (hair, limbs) getting tangled in moving parts
  3. Before detaching hydraulic implements (buckets, post drivers etc), always turn the tractor off to avoid injuries from hydraulic-line pressure bursts 
  4. When attaching a front-hand loader, always have a counter weight at the back (i.e. slasher)
  5. Always wear a seatbelt

Mr Wruck was keen to emphasise the significance of point number one (roll-over device) to attendees at the workshop.  “Most of the deaths in recent years have come from roll-overs, and this is from people thinking it’s quite easy to have a child or a second person on a tractor – they fall off and a death occurs. There’s no provision to have a second person on most tractors, and there is really nothing for them to hang onto,” he said. “I can’t stress enough just how dangerous this practice is. I know it’s very hard to refuse taking kids for a ride on a tractor, but we really need to be firm with this to ensure people live a little longer.” The goal of PIHSP is to improve the health and safety of workers and their families in farming industries across Australia. It is funded by the Cotton, Grains and Rural Industries Research and Development Corporations, as well as the Australian Meat Processor Corporation and Meat & Livestock Australia.

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