FBD Risk Manager
Learning from past mistakes
I grew up on a dairy farm in Wexford. I loved farming alongside my dad. I was a 16-year-old farmer who loved sport and I brought my hurl everywhere, especially when bringing the cows in for milking. On a sunny March evening, I decided to go for the cows on the old David Brown as I was feeling tired. This tractor was mainly used for scraping the yard and handling bales during winter. The tractor was in good condition, it had the scraper attached at the back, but it didn’t have a safety cab or roll bar. I had to travel down a steep valley incline, over a small bridge and up another hilly field to get to the paddock where the cows were. I left the yard in great spirits planning to have the cows in quickly. When I got to the top of the incline I put the tractor in a low gear and turned it facing directly down the slope; I quickly realised that traveling down this incline wasn’t a good idea, so I put the tractor in reverse. But the back wheels started spinning, the tractor accelerated down the field towards the stream and I lost control. Realising my mistake, my thoughts quickly moved to solution mode, and how could I avoid the tractor overturning or crashing into the stream and seriously injuring or killing me?
There was a narrow, level area about eight meters wide before the stream; I thought if I could get the tractor to slow down enough, I might be able to turn it at that point without flipping over. I had experience driving the tractor in the yard, but I’d never operated it on a hill, so I didn’t really know what to do. I decided to lower the scraper, as I thought this might slow the tractor down and make it more stable when I tried to turn it. The tractor only slowed a little. I managed to turn the tractor just at the right time as the tractor met the flat margin and it didn’t flip. I was safe, but in shock. I promised myself that I would never go for the cows on the tractor again.
Six months later, I was at the top of the same valley on the David Brown and I said to myself ‘you promised yourself you’d never do this again’. I turned the tractor around, headed back to the yard and grabbed my hurl. I never used the tractor to get the cows in again. Behavioural change is challenging, but it’s never worth taking the risk. Over the years, many experienced tractor operators have told me what I should have done that day, but what I learned is that only experienced and competent tractor operators should ever operate a tractor, and to always use a tractor with a safety cab or frame. Farm vehicle accidents continue to be the main causes of fatal injuries on Irish farms. Forty-five per cent of farm fatal accidents involve vehicles, mainly tractors. Tractors and other farm vehicles are essential on the farm, however they are hazardous if not operated safely. Tragically, the proof of this is all too clear.
On a positive note, many tractor accidents can be prevented by following the steps below:
- Always maintain tractors in good condition, in particular the brakes, lights, mirrors and wipers. Give special attention to ensure that all brakes are serviced.
- Ensure that a cab or safety roll bar is fitted.
- Only allow competent, experienced people to operate tractors. Children under the age of 14 must not be allowed to drive tractors/self-propelled machines. Young people must be at least 16 and hold an appropriate driver’s licence before they can drive in a public place.
- As per the Code of Practice on Preventing Accidents to Children and Young Persons in Agriculture children under seven must not be allowed to ride on a tractor. Children over the age of seven may only ride on a tractor provided the tractor is fitted with a properly fitted passenger seat, with seat belts, inside a safety cab/frame.
- Keep children away from areas where tractors are operating.
- Avoid rushing, drive at a safe speed. Be vigilant and take adequate breaks when operating tractors.
- Always think ‘safety first’ when operating farm vehicles. It could be the difference between life and death.
HSA data 2013-2023