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Worksafe safety campaign to target dangerous tractors

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Dangerous tractors will be the target of a statewide safety campaign beginning this month.

Modelled on WorkSafe’s successful Safe Towns program, in which a designated area is targeted for visits by inspectors, the tractor safety campaign will run until April next year.

Tractors without rollover protection, unguarded power take-offs or those needing maintenance will be the focus of the project.

The campaign follows seven deaths on Victorian farms and hobby farms between October 2006 and July this year.

WorkSafe ’s Executive Director, John Merritt, said giving people notice of the campaign meant improvements could be made before inspectors arrived.

“WorkSafe’s job is to help people understand their obligations, however notices will be issued to ensure required safety improvement work is undertaken.”

While deaths from tractor rollovers were not common now, Merritt said inspectors still frequently found tractors without ROPS (Rollover Protective Structures).

“WorkSafe is often told these tractors are ‘retired’, but were brought back into service as a stop-gap measure at busy times such as harvesting.

“Apart from the danger of rolling over, it is in these busy periods that shortcuts are often taken, creating more danger,” Merritt said.

ROPS have been required on many tractors since the 1990s. In 1997-98, more than 12,000 were fitted with the life-saving structures through a WorkSafe-funded rebate program.

“In the case of unguarded power take offs and other rotating equipment, guards are inexpensive, yet horrific incidents occur each year when clothes become caught.”

“Failure to maintain tractors, particularly their brakes and hydraulics has also resulted in deaths and serious injuries in recent years.”

While the farming community had significantly changed its attitude to safety in recent years as reflected by the declining farm fatality rate, Merritt said the campaign would help ensure that momentum was maintained.

“Farming communities increasingly understand that dying or being permanently injured at work is not part of the job, nor will the ‘she’ll be right’ attitude’ get them through.”

“The danger for our aging farming population is that they often carry long-term injuries and work on their own in isolated circumstances.

“This magnifies the risks if there is a safety incident and that’s why it’s essential that tractors and other equipment is made as safe as possible.”

The majority of Victorian workplace deaths and serious injuries involve experienced people, most often men, who are over 45.

“Taking risks, working on your own, an attitude that ‘I’ve always done it this way’ and not making concessions for the fact that they’re getting older can have serious consequences,” Merritt said.

Inexperienced people such as hobby farmers are also a concern because they are often unfamiliar with equipment, its limitations and their own.

“While deaths are high profile, they’re relatively few in number compared to the number of injuries which affect quality of life, often for decades.

“These injuries affect individuals, their family and the wider community,” Merritt said.

Inspection timetable:

  • South Gippsland, Otways/Princetown August 2007
  • Corryong/Tallangatta - October/November 2007
  • Yarra Valley - November 2007
  • Cobden/Timboon - January 2008
  • Mornington Peninsula, Ballarat region, Mildura region - April 2008.

Things to consider:

  • ROPS are relatively inexpensive as are guards for power take offs
  • Ensure tractor operators are properly trained and understand the limitations of the machine and themselves
  • Carry out maintenance, particularly to brakes and hydraulics
  • Let someone know where you will be working and when you are due back. It can be vital if something goes wrong
  • Tractors being sold for general use must be sold with rollover protection.

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