Tractors are one of the most used pieces of machinery on fruit and vegetable farms and are usually quite safe when handled properly.

However, they become lethal when operated incorrectly, and because of their size and power, any mistake can lead to serious injury or death.

Historically, tractor accidents have killed more people than any other rural machinery. More than 80 per cent of farm deaths involve tractors.

Between June 1984 and June 1990, 58 people were killed in tractor-related accidents in Queensland alone. Three out of four of these deaths result from the tractor rolling sideways or flipping backwards, trapping the operator under the machine.

More than half of these accidents occur on flat or slightly sloping land.

These accidents are preventable.

There have been no fatalities recorded in Australia on tractors fitted with Australian Standard roll-over protection structures (ROPS) . ROPS are a proven means of reducing deaths in rural accidents.

Wise growers will always use caution when handling machinery.

Before you start to use the tractor, be sure that you or your employees are familiar with the controls.

Always ride on the seat, and don't allow anyone else to ride on the tractor unless there is a proper seat, because constant loud noise is damaging to your hearing.

Ensure that your tractor is well-maintained.

Estimates by the Victorian Department of Labour show that a tractor will back flip in approximately 0.5 second in fourth gear and approximately 1.33 seconds in first gear.

Human reaction time is 0.75 second, so it is unlikely that the operator would have time to jump clear from a back flipping tractor!

Remember to always hitch low, because this keeps the front wheels on the ground.

Hitching the load above the centre line of the rear axle greatly increases the tendency to flip backwards.

Use the draw bar or the manufacturer's mounting points rather than dangerous make-shift methods. (It's not a good idea to alter or modify the height of the drawbar!)

Never hitch around the axle-housing or to the top link pin. And be careful to engage the clutch gently when going up hill or towing.

Steep slopes are a special hazard for tractors and should only be worked by skilled and experienced operators.

Four wheel drive or front wheel assist tractors are generally safer on slopes because they provide more traction.

Set the tractor wheels to the widest possible setting for maximum stability.

Speed may cause the tractor to roll, so be careful before turning or applying the brakes.

Descend slopes cautiously, and lock together the turning brakes before working on hills or travelling on roads.

Be very careful in wet conditions because the hazard is greatly increased.

Each year tractor deaths bring heartbreak and hardship to families in Queensland. Don't think it can't happen to you.

Rollover protection frames or cabs are a proven means of reducing fatalities, and not one death has been reported involving a tractor fitted with roll over protection.

A hobby farmer invited some friends and relations to his property for lunch. He later decided to pull some rocks away from his stock yards. His guests helped him hitch a chain to the seat bracket of the tractor - about 0.3 metres above the axle centre line.

He was killed instantly when the high hitching caused the tractor to back flip, narrowly missing several people who were standing near the back of the machine.

Extract from Qld. Fruit & Veg. News., Sept.6th, 1990

DATE: November 1990

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