Farmer crushed after braking malfunction

25 October 2011

The following news story is reported by STV. Tractors with fork lift capability are subject to Thorough Examination legislation, and a CFTS examination - which includes the vehicle's brakes and hydraulics - could well have saved the farmer's life.

A farmer who died after being crushed by a tractor could have lived if the ageing vehicle had been properly maintained, a fatal accident inquiry has concluded.

Thomas Neil lost his life after the 40-year-old vehicle rolled down a ramp and trapped him against a steel gate while he was moving hay bales at Shiel Farm in Catrine, East Ayrshire on December 4, 2010.

Fire and rescue services were called to the scene but could not save the 64-year-old agricultural contractor, who died from asphyxia.

The inquiry heard that the tractor, a Massey Ferguson 3305, had been "poorly maintained" and was in "a deteriorated condition".

In particular, the report found that the vehicle's brakes were "significantly deficient" and incapable of safely arresting the vehicle's movement on inclines.

No evidence could be found as to whether Mr Neil had applied the brakes or not before exiting the vehicle, but the inquiry heard that he had been in the habit of lowering the vehicle's fork lift arms against the ground to stop it rolling.

In the report, Andrew Crouch of the Health and Safety Executive, said: "In my opinion the tractor was in overall poor condition and exhibited faults consistent with poor maintenance.

"The hazards associated with inadequate brakes on a vehicle are likely to result in serious injury or fatality as in this case."

Concluding, Sheriff Desmond Leslie said: "The sad and premature death of Mr Thomas Neil was a consequence of his lax attention to his personal safety combined with his operation of an inadequately maintained tractor with a defective and inefficient braking system.

"Mr Neil's practice of pinning the loaded front arms to the ground to anchor the tractor was rendered ineffective by the gradient of the ramp on which he had parked the vehicle and the depleted power of the hydraulics powering the front loader arising from a leaking hydraulic system which would have been made even less effective if loaded with hayledge.

"The parking brake whether applied or not was ineffective through wear and incapable of holding the tractor in place while positioned on a gradient. The sheer weight of the tractor was sufficient to pin Mr Thomas Neil to the gates and restrict his overall movement and particularly his ability to inflate his lungs."