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Special Investigators - Episode 7 Fertiliser Truck

“I didn’t believe, right up to the moment that it began to tip, that I was in any trouble at all. When I felt the top side begin to lift, I thought, ‘the *******’s rolling.’ I was hugely surprised.”

- Victim Mike Rowley

Contract lime spreader Mike Rowley was working on a steep farm paddock near Timaru when his truck rolled, crashing down the hillside into a gully at the bottom, shedding 1.5 tonnes of fertiliser as it went. Mike was trapped upside down in the crushed cab with a broken neck.

Damaged truck and spilt fertiliser.

Department of Labour inspector Hamish Piercy examined the accident scene and talked with the farm owner, who found Mike after the March 2004 accident. The 37 degree slope appeared too steep to be negotiated safely by the highly experienced worker.

Hamish Piercy’s enquiries established that the farm owner was not a factor in the accident. He had ensured, as far as possible, that the truck was safe coming on to the property. Mike knew what he was doing and was familiar with the land. In this case, the owner had correctly relied on Mike’s experience and judgement to do the job safely. Vehicle testing ruled out any problems with the truck, which was owned by the contractors who employed Mike.

Mike, permanently paralysed following the accident, confirmed to Hamish Piercy from his hospital bed that the decision about where to drive on the property was entirely his own. When he decided to turn down the steep hill and come back up again he thought at worst the truck would slide down the hillside.

But Mike badly misjudged the truck’s rollover point. He was operating the truck at the very margins of what it could handle, and the steepness of the slope was his ultimate undoing. As the weight of the load of fertiliser shifted, the truck tipped and rolled several times.

After the truck rolled, Mike – hanging upside down in the cab - knew he was injured badly. “ I knew I’d broken my neck and I could just see this pool of blood forming on the floor of the truck. I stayed alive by counting and that allowed me to regulate my breathing, which was difficult.”

Close up of damaged truck.

He was thankful to be alive and was keen to prevent anyone else suffering the same fate through participating in Special Investigators.

Hamish Piercy’s investigation concluded that no party would be prosecuted in this case. “The primary focus is to actually find out what happened and … learn from that and take that back to the industry so that others can learn from it and reduce the chance of it happening.”