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Farm fined for young worker’s death in tractor tragedy

Date:
18 June 2013

A young Somerset farm worker was killed when the tractor she was driving overturned in a field a court heard today.

Kim Webb, 26, from North Cadbury, was driving a tractor that had no seat belt, cab or roll over bar on a sloping field near North Cadbury when the incident happened on 26 June 2009.

Bristol Crown Court fined her employer, JA&E Montgomery Ltd a total of £80,000 and ordered them to pay £40,000 in costs in a prosecution brought by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) today (18 June 2013).

The court heard that dairy staff regularly used the tractor for their duties at the farm.

On the day of the incident, Ms Webb had been checking the cattle in several fields, including Farmer’s Field, off Woolston Road. On the way back she was driving down a sloping field when the tractor rolled over. The tractor overturned twice before righting itself. It continued moving in circles until it came to rest against a fence. It is thought that Ms Webb was thrown off and crushed as the tractor overturned.

The driverless tractor was seen by passing members of the public on a nearby road, who found Ms Webb and alerted the emergency services. Ms Webb was declared dead on arrival at hospital.

An investigation by the HSE revealed that the tractor had no rollover protection system (consisting of a roll bar and seat restraint) which could have protected the driver if the vehicle rolled over.

Inquiries also revealed that:

  • Brake pedals on the tractor were not able to be linked together making it unsuitable to be driven on the road
  • There was a lack of suitable and sufficient risk assessments for the type of work being carried out
  • No evidence of a safe system of work for jobs employees were asked to do with the tractor
  • No effective training in place for workers using the tractor
  • A failure of management control, oversight and supervision regarding the use of the tractor.

Despite Kim Webb’s supervisor having no formal training qualifications to show her how to use the tractor the company still allowed the training to take place unmonitored.

The company also permitted the use of the tractor on the road and in the yard without a roll bar (in the knowledge that it was in breach of the relevant regulations) and without a seatbelt. It failed to monitor the use of the tractor and to appreciate it was being used on a sloping field.

JA&E Montgomery Ltd of Manor Farm, North Cadbury pleaded guilty to a breach of Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and was fined £80,000.

HSE Inspector Leo Diez, speaking after the hearing, said:

"This tragic incident highlights once again the dangers involved in agriculture. Between 40 and 50 workers are killed on British farms every year. That’s nearly one person per week – a higher death rate than construction or manufacturing.

"Simple steps could have avoided a needless fatality. I hope this tragedy highlights the risks of driving tractors without proper protection for drivers.

"Tractors must have some form of roll-over protection for the driver, including a cab or a roll bar and a seat restraint. Farm workers must be given training on how to use equipment properly. It is also vital that machinery is maintained and crucial items like the brake pedals, are working properly. Farmers need to supervise their employees and ensure they are aware of the risks associated with their work and how to control the risks."

Ms Webb’s father, Terry Webb, said:

"Our family has been devastated by losing Kim.

"Inexperienced farm workers, especially young people, must be given proper training and supervision when handling potentially dangerous machinery and not just left to get on with the job. They must also be provided with all the right safety equipment to protect them.

"My daughter paid for this lack of care with her life. I do not want more families to go through the dreadful experience of losing a loved one needlessly. Employers must take their responsibilities to their workers seriously.

"We would like to thank the HSE for their hard work and commitment in pursuing this prosecution. This investigation and subsequent legal action has been conducted in a compassionate and professional manner which has greatly reassured our family during this difficult period."

The company was also prosecuted in 2000 for management failures that led to a non-fatal tractor related incident.

Further information on tractor safety can be found on the HSE website at http://www.hse.gov.uk/agriculture/topics/transport.htm

Notes to editors

  1. The Health and Safety Executive is Britain’s national regulator for workplace health and safety. It aims to reduce work-related death, injury and ill health. It does so through research, information and advice; promoting training; new or revised regulations and codes of practice; and working with local authority partners by inspection, investigation and enforcement. www.hse.gov.uk
  2. Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 states: "It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees."

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