Farm Safety Week (Day Three) Transport - “Work Smart, Ride Safe!”

8 July 2015

Farm safety week

“Work Smart, Ride Safe!”
Today’s theme during Farm Safety Week is ‘transport’.  Thomas Price (NFU’s Transport Policy Officer and Farm Safety Partnership England member/secretary) explained why: 
“Sadly, over the last ten years, 29% of all farm related fatalities have been due to vehicle overturns and being struck by moving vehicles on England’s farms. All-terrain vehicles (ATVs), including quad bikes, can have fatal consequences if best practice is not adhered to. And still, even when it is, there is always the possibility that accidents can happen however you can take steps to reduce those chances and best protect yourself if an accident does happen.”

Quad bikes - Roger James’ story
Experienced farmer Roger James has described how he lost concentration and hence control of his quad bike whilst riding up a slope on his Powys farm and ended up underneath it. Roger admits that a moment’s inattention changed his, and his family’s life forever. “99 times out of 100 I wouldn’t have gone up that slope on the quad bike,’” he says.  “I just wasn’t concentrating on what I was doing for those few seconds.  I did it without thinking.  Basically, I shouldn’t have been there.” 

That fleeting loss of concentration meant he found himself riding up a slope instead of continuing his approach on level ground.  The result was sudden and dramatic.  The slope was too steep for the vehicle and it tipped backwards and upended, throwing Roger on to the ground behind.  As he lay there, stunned and unable to move, the tumbling machine landed on him.  Half a tonne of falling metal hit Roger’s unprotected body and smashed his pelvis.  He wasn’t wearing protective headgear either, and as serious as his injuries were, he considers himself lucky they weren’t even worse.

“Only the previous week I’d got myself a mobile phone, and that was the life saver, really,” says Roger. Despite his stunned state he managed to dial 999 for help, and also to ring his wife and son.  His family members quickly located him, closely followed by a paramedic team. In a commendably short time Roger was airlifted to hospital, where he spent eight days in traction before being transferred to University Hospital, Coventry for surgery.  He then spent a further seven days in hospital and the following three months confined to bed.   But the consequences of that momentary lapse are permanent.  Roger’s injury has left him in constant pain with limited mobility. 

Roger had always been aware of the risks in the agricultural profession.  “We spend our days working on our own in remote locations.  We’re constantly handling powerful machines.  And these days we’re doing more and more multi-tasking.  It’s vital to keep your mind on the job.  I’ve had years of experience, and my motor bike background gave me even more capability with quad bikes.  Yet that brief lapse of concentration took me and the bike where we shouldn’t have been.  Now I’m suffering the consequences.”

The NFU’s Thomas Price added “Roger’s story highlights that farm workers of any age run the risk of injury or death from transport related accidents. Working with ATVs, fork lift trucks, lorries and transport of all types is an ever-present danger on farms.  Don’t learn safety by accident. Take the time to think about what you are doing and what might go wrong as making a few simple checks could actually save a life – maybe your own!” 

Roger’s story can be seen in full and in film on the HSE ‘Make The Promise’ webpage

Other recent media reports of ATV cases include:
• A recent Fatal Accident Inquiry in Scotland heard that an Orkney farmer died after his quad bike landed on him in June 2013.  

Sadly, Thomas Shearer was one of many farmers, farm workers and family members who have been less-fortunate than Roger James.  He was attending to his livestock when his bike slipped while he was going down a slope. He jumped off and landed face down. The bike somersaulted and landed on him, while the engine kept running.
Mr Shearer was conscious when he was found and was attended to by his wife and neighbours ‘without delay’.  All efforts were made to ensure that he received early medical assistance and he was transferred to hospital in Kirkwall by air ambulance, but died four days later from a pulmonary thromboembolism, due to deep vein thrombosis in his calf, or his chest injury.

Sheriff Andrew Berry commented that although the tyres were in good condition, the quad bike ‘had not been as well maintained as it might ideally have been’.  An examination of the bike identified ‘inappropriate tyre pressures’ (with significant differences across the axles), while the brakes were also ‘not fully effective’.   Mr Shearer also did not apparently have access to a low pressure gauge, which would have enabled him to regularly check the quad bike’s tyre pressures were at the correct level.

The judge commented: “As is so often the case, tragedy can strike those engaged in farming and related activities. It can occur at a moment’s notice as in this instance. The very essence of farming exposes hard working, experienced, decent, caring people to dangers that do not exist in the daily toil of most people in our communities.  This includes the use of many and varied vehicles and other equipment as well as exposure to all manner of weather conditions and of course the ever changing combination of both.”

• Another recent ATV death 
73 year-old Michael Reynolds died when the off-road vehicle he was driving overturned on the JCB-owned Wootton Estate, near Ellastone, Staffs, in mid-June. Local media reported on the incident but no further details are available.

• Recent ATV prosecution 
A farming company was fined £2,000 and ordered to pay costs of £483 in April 2015 after the fiancée of one of the company directors sustained life-changing head injuries when she lost control of an ATV at one of GNB Farm Ltd’s farms in mid-Devon. She was hospitalised for 10 days and unable to return to her work for seven months when the ATV crashed and rolled throwing her to the road. She was not wearing a helmet. 

The company also failed to report the injuries under RIDDOR and HSE only became aware of it when the Devon and Cornwall Police contacted them.  During the joint Police and HSE investigation it became clear that the ATV had been poorly maintained and was described by a police vehicle examiner as being in “a dangerous and unroadworthy condition” with longstanding defects to the brakes and steering. It was also discovered that the director’s fiancée had received no formal training in the use of an ATV and had no helmet available for her to wear while she rode the ATV. 

After the hearing Simon Jones, the prosecuting HSE Inspector said: “This was an entirely preventable injury and it is by fortune that it was not a fatality. Anyone who uses an ATV should be properly trained and always wear a helmet. If you have an accident on an ATV wearing a helmet could save your life or prevent a serious head injury.” 
HSE’s Information Sheet AIS33 provides useful information on the safe use of ATVs.

HSE analysis of transport incidents

HSE’s analysis of the 200 machinery-related fatal incidents over the 10 years 2004-2014 revealed that workplace transport accounted for 124 deaths.  The breakdown of these is interesting:
• Perhaps not surprisingly, tractors, ATVs and telehandlers accounted for 88% of the transport fatalities.
• 64 people were run over, 37 by their own vehicle!
• These were often due to the driver leaving the vehicle whilst it was in motion; starting the vehicle from an unsafe position; or working near a vehicle without applying the brake (or the brake was defective).
• 55 were killed in overturns - 25 tractors, 24 ATVs, 3 ride-on mowers, 2 4x4s and 1 telehandler.
• 5 in collisions [nb. HSE only records those incidents which occur on farms, not on the road. There are a significant number of deaths from road traffic accidents involving farm vehicles each year too.]

Not the full story - What about RTAs, Rail Crossings, etc? 

It must be remembered that HSE’s statistics do not reveal the full number of deaths related to farming and other land-based industries. Each year additional incidents are noted in media reports, some of which are excluded from HSE’s statistics, eg road traffic accidents (RTAs), although these may be caused by issues such as poor maintenance, insecure loads or inadequate training, they are investigated and enforced by the Police/Vehicle and Operator Services Agency (VOSA), and only recorded by the Department for Transport.

One such incident which resulted in the death of an untrained 16 year old student using a telehandler on the road led to the first manslaughter case and prison sentence for a farmer. This occurred way back in 2001, but details are still available on the BBC news website. Lee Smith, an agriculture student, died in November 1999 when the JCB vehicle he was driving was involved in a collision with a lorry on the A49 in Shropshire. His employer, farmer/horse breeder (and former national point-to-point champion) Alistair Crow was jailed for 15 months for the manslaughter of Lee Smith.  His father Edward Crow, was also found guilty of the same offence, but walked away with a 12-month jail term, suspended for a year. 

Rural roads safety campaign  

The THINK! campaign urges drivers using country roads to take extra care and be aware of the hazards often associated with them, such as animals in the road or slow moving vehicles such as tractors.  This campaign was given added impetus after the Department of Transport released startling figures for RTAs on rural roads, including:
• 60 per cent of road fatalities occur on country roads.
• 3 people die each day on average on rural roads.
• The number of people killed on country roads is nearly 11 times higher than on motorways
• A quarter of drivers have had a near miss and one driver in 20 has had a collision on a country road.

RTAs involving tractors or other farm vehicles are often reported but occasionally it is apparent that they could equally have happened on the farm due to defects in the equipment (eg brakes, or broken drawbars…. 

• 79-year-old man killed after being hit by runaway trailer 
This occurred in Birch, Essex on Sunday 5 July – Just as Farm Safety Week was about to start. He was walking along the street, when a trailer attached to a John Deere tractor travelling towards Wigborough became uncoupled and hit him. He lived locally and died at the scene. HSE has launched an investigation.

Farmers Weekly’s ‘Academy’ articles have dealt with transport issues as modules in their Health and Safety course,  eg the FW Academy on trailer brake safety, originally posted on FW’s Interactive site on 18 December 2013, but open to subscribers. 
Farmers Guardian’s online Insight also ran a useful, lengthy piece on ‘Tackling trailer maintenance’ on 22 May 2015.

Increase in weight and speed
This topic is all the more important, as gross train weights and tractor speed limits rise, following the recent changes to legislation.  Farm tractors towing agricultural trailers are now permitted to travel at a higher gross combination weight of 31 tonnes, an increase of 6.61 tonnes from the old 24.39 tonne limit - although the maximum trailer gross weight of 18.29 tonnes has not yet been changed. 

Furthermore, tractors and trailers previously restricted to a 20mph speed limit under the Road Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations 1986, are now able to travel at 25mph (40kph). As a result, there has never been a more pertinent time to ensure lights and brakes are in full working order. Farmers Weekly (18 March 2015) carried an interesting update (+ Q&A) on the changes and their implications
[nb.  IOSH/RIG submitted comments to the DfTr in response to the Government’s consultation on these increases when they were proposed.  The additional training and other checks we and other organisations called for have not been adopted.]

Safe Stop The Safe Stop procedure is obviously particularly applicable to transport operations. As announced yesterday, guidance in the form of ‘Handover Sheets’ are now available for use in training and Tool Box Talks..  Contact the Farm Safety Partnership. 

Safe Route?
It is also important for drivers (and employers) to think about planning their routes and taking any necessary precautions to warn other road users.  Eg in the case of: 

• Six-figure payout for biker injured in tractor collision
Farmers Weekly online carried an interesting story on 20 May 2015 about a biker who was seriously injured in a collision with a tractor on the Isle of Wight in July 2011.  Warwick Buswell was awarded a six-figure compensation payment even though a judge ruled he was two-thirds to blame.

Evidence suggested he was riding close to 70mph as he went over the brow of a hill before the collision.  Fellow biker Warren Godfrey told the judge how they were faced with an emergency the moment they came over a hill. They both hit their brakes but were unable to avoid a contractor’s Mr Symes’ tractor and trailer, which had emerged on to the road through a gap in a hedge. Mr Buswell’s bike slammed straight into the farm vehicle and Mr Godfrey’s slid underneath the trailer, coming out on the other side. He too was badly injured.

Self-employed contractor Mr Symes was hauling grass silage and the judge said his ‘excuses’ for not having used a safer alternative exit from the field were not supported by the evidence. The Judge added: “I am driven to the conclusion that Mr Symes appreciated the risks that he was taking when he drove his tractor and trailer out on the B3399 from the exit he used. He accepted that either Mr Symes foresaw the danger and took the risk, or he did not foresee it when he should have done. “Whichever it was, he was negligent”.

However, Mr Justice Supperstone also went on to rule that both bikers should have appreciated the hazards and driving too fast so Mr Buswell was considered two-thirds to blame. However, given the extent of his injuries, his compensation was likely to run well into six figures - even after a two-thirds deduction.

RIG Vice Chair Alan Plom recalls coming across a similar incident in Bedfordshire on a ‘quiet Sunday afternoon’.  Two motorcyclists came around a blind corner and one collided with a combine harvester, causing life-changing injuries for his pillion passenger.  Fortunately, the convoy of 3 combines and their associated headers was accompanied by a protection vehicle and they all had flashing amber beacons. However, perhaps earlier warning could have been given by the lead vehicle going ahead to the bend?

Exiting and turning into farm entrances are also typical potential accident ‘hot spots’ which should be considered in farm risk assessments.  As well as ensuring all lighting and signs are effective, simply cutting back hedges to improve visibility and thinking about using alternative routes to avoid ‘right turns’ into field gates etc, can help to reduce the risk. 

• Tractor driver dies in collision (6 July 2015)

Farm Safety Week got off to a bad start with reports of a tractor driver being pronounced dead at the scene after his vehicle overturned, trapping him underneath. The driver, aged 42, was towing a large trailer when it overturned at the entrance to Pendarves Farm in Camborne, Cornwall. HSE has been informed. 

Rail Crossings

Incidents also continue to occur on rail crossings, the consequences of which could be catastrophic.  These are investigated by the British Transport Police and the Office of Rail and Road, eg the recent incident in North Yorkshire in which a tractor was cut in half, fortunately without causing a derailment or deaths/serious injuries to passengers – or the driver! He was taken to hospital with minor injuries after the crash between Knaresborough and Cattal on 14 March 2015. Three passengers on the train suffered minor injuries. Further details and some spectacular photographs are available in media reports, in particular Farmers Weekly on-line.

RIG supports ORR and Network Rail’s Rail Crossing Awareness Days which are usually held at the Forestry Commission’s Birches Valley Visitors Centre at Cannock Chase, Staffs.  These include practical demonstrations at the nearby rail crossing training facility, which was installed for the APF Forestry Show in 2010. This facility is featured in a film available via RIGs Homepage describing the correct procedure for ‘user-worked’ rail crossings.  Safe working near OHPLs is also featured at these events.  

[NB. A detailed article is proposed soon, but the next Rail Crossing Awareness Day is being held at Cannock on 29 July.  For further details contact]

Overhead Power Lines

As highlighted in yesterday’s focus on machinery-related incidents, contacts with Overhead Power Lines (OHPLs) continue to occur and cause concern.  Of course most of these occur during transport operations but contact with poles or lines often occur during field work such as harvesting or spraying. 7 of the 8 electrocutions recorded between 2004 and 2014 were from contact with OHPLs = 2 Tipping lorries, 2 Tractor and trailer, 1 Lorry mounted crane, 1 Potato harvester and 1 Combine. (The remaining fatality involved welding equipment.)

• Farmworker killed when his tipper truck contacted 11kV OHPL  
A 27-year-old Romanian migrant worker - who had only been in the country for a few days - suffered serious injuries as a result of coming into contact with the power cable and died at the scene. The incident happened at a yard near Kirknewton, West Lothian on 3 June 2015.  Witnesses said the tipper bed was raised when it struck the overhead cable. It is understood the worker was killed when stepping clear of the vehicle.  Police Scotland and HSE are investigating.

What next on OHPLs?

HSE’s review of machinery and transport related accidents concluded that OHPLs are the biggest cause of electrical fatalities and recommended that the industry needs to promote good practice. With this in mind, RIG proposes to work with other organisations (eg the Energy Networks Association, representing the Distributors) to convene a Networking Workshop (possibly next spring) to discuss and demonstrate what precautions – technical or ‘managerial’ – can be introduced to reduce the risk of contacts.  Possible options to consider include mapping power lines on GPS systems, or developing control mechanisms to warn of (or hopefully even prevent or restrict) potentially dangerous movements in the danger zone around power lines.  

Further guidance on farm transport is available on HSE’s website and other national regulators websites, as well as the Farm Safety Partnership’s useful summary leaflet: ‘Safety Focus on Farm Transport’

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