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Special Investigators - Episode 6b - PTO SHAFT

“There is nothing at all on this machine, on the sower itself, that has been guarded at all. So in other words they’ve completely ignored the safety aspect of it.” - Department of Labour inspector Philip McVicar

A sharemilker at Rotomanu on the West Coast was lucky to survive an accident that happened when he was spreading fertiliser using a sower powered by a tractor. A passerby discovered Barry Matheson prone in a paddock wearing only a sock and a gumboot.

Department of Labour inspectors Terry Williams and Philip McVicar found some remainders of Barry’s clothes at the October 2004 accident scene and these provided vital clues to establishing what occurred.

The power take off (PTO) shaft on the tractor was not covered. As Barry leaned over the unguarded shaft, the tail of his jersey caught in the PTO mechanism. He spun around violently until his clothing tore under the immense pressure and was flung out onto the field.

The legal responsibility for safety on the farm lay with the owner of the property. However, Terry Williams discovered that the farm owner had died two years before and the estate was not yet settled. The estate trustees were not actively involved in running the farm and left routine decisions to Barry Matheson.

Barry sustained two broken legs, broken ribs and a broken shoulder in the accident and was in hospital for four months. He admitted to Terry Williams to using machinery in an unsafe state for many years. A guard for the PTO would have cost just $50 to $100.

The investigation concluded that the Department would not prosecute the trustees or Barry. The trustees would have expected to be alerted to any maintenance issues and Barry had suffered the consequences of using the unguarded machinery and his injuries had forced him out of sharemilking. The Department’s report focused on education to prevent similar accidents occurring.

Terry Williams sums it up: “He was extremely lucky to have survived. It just goes to show how easily you can get caught up in those things…unguarded machinery is extremely dangerous.”