Ensuring tractor safety to minimise rollover accidents
In October 2019, a man on a rural property died after being crushed by the tractor he was operating; the tractor is believed to have rolled as he was reversing into a deep excavation. In a separate incident, a person was injured when they lost control of a fertiliser spreader on a slope, and it rolled over. Statistics indicate that 49 workers compensation claims relating to workers being struck by a tractor have been accepted from 2014–15 to 2018–2019. Between July 2014 and November 2019, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland issued 196 statutory notices addressing the general risk management of tractors across all industries. In 2014, a company was fined $35,000 after a worker sustained internal injuries and fractured ribs when his tractor drove over an embankment; the man was not wearing a seatbelt, and was thrown out and run over by the tractor. These incidents indicate that operating tractors on uneven ground, slight and steep slopes, edges of depressions, contour banks or water courses presents rollover dangers, along with towing or pulling loads. Tractors are safe when operated properly, but can be dangerous if used incorrectly.
Employers or persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBUs) must ensure the provision and maintenance of a safe plant. Higher order risk controls include designing plants to eliminate risks to health and safety. Safety features which should be addressed at the tractor design, manufacture and operational stages include rollover protective structures (ROPS), falling object protective structures (FOPS), guards, protection from noise and ultraviolet radiation exposure, and other measures, such as seatbelts.
Effective risk management involves the identification of hazards, risk assessments, the implementation of reasonably practicable control measures and reviewing those control measures, to ensure that they are working as planned. Once the risks associated with the mobile plant have been assessed, control measures must be implemented and ranked from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest. PCBUs must work through this hierarchy and choose the control that effectively eliminates or reduces the risks.
This includes actions such as substitution, where old tractors or mobile plants without rollover protection are replaced with a model featuring factory-fitted ROPS. PCBUs can also retrofit existing plants with an approved ROPS, by referring to the regulatory provisions regarding ROPS on tractors in the WHS Regulation 2011. A ROPS is a structure that is designed to reduce the risk of death or injury as a result of a tractor or agricultural mobile plant rolling in any direction. Seatbelts are also designed to prevent the operator from being ejected during use or a rollover. Logbooks should also be maintained, with scheduled maintenance, repairs and modifications that affect the safe operation of the tractor noted.
Any remaining risks should be minimised through the implementation of administrative controls, such as inspections, servicing and maintenance in line with the manufacturer’s recommendations. Operational procedures and instructions should also be developed for the use of tractors and mobile plants. The PCBU should provide adequate training to all tractor operators, and develop safe work procedures in line with the manufacturer’s instructions.
Tractors and other agricultural mobile plants should be driven at speeds slow enough to keep control over unexpected hazards, with added caution in wet conditions. Operators should also look for ditches, embankments and depressions, as unstable banks can cause overturns. Speeds should be reduced before turning or applying the brakes. Where a differential lock and turning brakes are fitted, ensure that the differential lock is disengaged and the turning brakes are locked before travelling from one work site to another. Tractors or other agricultural mobile plants should be in low gear when descending slopes.
When bogged in mud or in a ditch, tractors should drive out in reverse gear, with logs and planks only used behind the rear wheels to increase traction, as using them in front of the rear wheels increases risk of back flipping. Only dismount from tractors or other agricultural mobile plants when they have stopped or the parking brake has been effectively engaged. When towing a trailer, the load must be evenly balanced and the vehicle operated at low speed. Operators working in remote areas or working alone should always let someone know where they are going and when they are expected back.
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