Special Investigators - TV Series
Special Investigators - Episode 1 - MOTUEKA TRACTOR FATALITY
"The fact is that the seatbelt was available. It wasn't used, and we'll never know of course, but it could have meant the difference between life and death or serious injury."
Department of Labour inspector Ron Burt
A Nelson man who was fatally crushed when his tractor tipped over a bank had worked with tractors for most of his life. One simple act could have saved his life - fastening his seatbelt.
Hudson Boyes was employed to maintain a Nelson vineyard and gardens. One day in January 2005, Hudson hired a 2004 Kubota tractor - in near-new condition, fitted with a safety frame, front-end loader and a seat belt. There were clear signs advising the tractor operator to wear the seatbelt, and this information was repeated in the operator instructions of the hire agreement. To put it simply, the equipment was safe for its intended use.
There was no reason why it shouldn't be a straightforward job - Hudson had carried out this kind of work before and was familiar with the property.
The Department of Labour's investigation into the accident identified that Hudson lost control of the tractor while mowing the side of a bank covered in heavy grass. The tractor went over the edge of the bank and rolled, dropping the driver from the seat and landing on him.
Long grass and blackberry growth along the edge of the bank meant Hudson couldn't easily identify the edge of the bank. A tree planted near the edge of the bank reduced his driving space.
An action as simple as walking along the bank or fencing along the edge of the creek could have helped define the edge of the bank.
Tragically, it was the simplest action which could have played the most important role in saving Hudson's life - fastening the seatbelt.
Inspector Ron Burt sums it up: "He's done all the right things apart from putting the seatbelt on."
DOs AND DON'Ts
- Get to know the intended work area and select equipment that's appropriate for the location and the task. Consider ground conditions, slope, holes or ditches, power lines etc
- Understand how your equipment works and any safety features - this is especially important if hiring unfamiliar equipment
- Specify a ROPS frame and seat belt and use the seat belt at all times
- In the event of a rollover, stay within the protective cage - don't try and jump out as you may get trapped by the vehicle or the frame
- Guard all power takeoff shafts and other dangerous parts
- Ensure all power is turned off before clearing blockages
- Before getting off a tractor disengage the drive, put the handbrake on and switch off the ignition
- Make sure you have some way of contacting people in an emergency - carry a mobile phone
- Make sure someone knows where you are and when you're expected back
- Tractors are involved in about 19% of all fatal injuries on farms and about 7% of injuries requiring hospitalisation
- Almost a quarter of tractor injuries involve falls (eg dismounting) 20% result from being run over, 13% from rollovers and 11% from overturns
- A Swedish study found that between 1964 and 1986 roll over fatalities decreased from 12 to 0.2 per 100,000 farm tractors. During that same period, the proportion of tractors equipped with ROPS increased from 6% to 93%, and the total number of tractors rose by 275%
- Studies in the USA have shown similar results. NIOSH (the USA body National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health) reported that while 40% of people died in tractor roll-over accidents in a study, only 2% in another study died from similar incidents in which ROPS were fitted (the 2% who died weren't wearing seat belts)