Farmer crushed and killed by auger

WorkSafe is issuing a reminder about the safe operation of powered mobile plant on farms.

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Background

A 61-year-old farmer died when a large self-propelled auger he was operating tipped over, killing him instantly.

The grain farmer was moving the auger into position to transfer grain from a silo to a truck. The auger was fitted with a seat but had no seatbelt attached. As he manoeuvred the auger past a silo and began reversing it up a shallow gradient towards the silo, it tipped over onto its side. The farmer was thrown from the seat and fatally crushed.

Safety issues

Agriculture makes up only 2% of Victoria's workforce, but 14% of workplace deaths. Most deaths on farms (about 75%) involve mobile plant and farm vehicles.

Powered mobile plant, including self-propelled augers, can overturn or collide. If there is a seat or operator platform, users can be ejected and suffer serious or fatal injuries.

Operators can use self-propelled augers by either:

  • standing and walking beside the auger
  • sitting on the auger

Both methods put the operator at risk of being crushed if the auger tips over.

Hazards that increase the risk of an auger overturning include:

  • Augers naturally have a high centre of gravity.
  • Many self-propelled augers use a single jockey wheel to support their base. This makes the auger three-wheeled powered mobile plant. The triangle between the three wheels that touch the ground forms the 'stability footprint'. This is much smaller than on a four-wheel design.
  • The operator's seat being positioned on the edge of the stability footprint.
  • Using the augur on a slope or ground that is unstable or uneven.

Identify hazards

To reduce the risk of mobile plant overturning, employers and farmers must identify hazards before using the plant. These include:

  • Plant condition and configuration, such as:
    • tyre condition and pressure
    • height of the auger
  • Environmental conditions including:
    • slopes, drains and changes in surface, such as the concrete foundation silos are built on
    • soft surfaces and undulating terrain, including wheel ruts and bogs

Recommended ways to control risks

The hierarchy of control is a system for controlling risks in the working environment. It helps employers to eliminate or reduce risks at work.

To control risks of using powered mobile plant on farms, WorkSafe recommends the following:

  • Use the most suitable plant for the task. This may include choosing four-wheeled self-propelled augers. These are more stable than three-wheel designs.
  • Any seats should be placed within the stability footprint, between the track width of the main wheels and centrally below the auger shaft. This allows the operator to sit centrally and their weight helps to balance the auger. It also creates the largest safety zone if the auger tips over.
  • The seat should be fitted with a seatbelt. This will keep the operator secured to the seat and in the safety zone, rather than being ejected or crushed.
  • If operators walk beside the auger, they should not stand on it. This can make the augur unstable.
  • Where possible, reduce the travel speed of the augur. This includes smoothing transitions between forward and reverse to keep the auger stable during all operating conditions.
  • Where possible, lower the height of the auger before manoeuvring it.
  • Ensure ground surfaces are level and adequately compacted to support the plant. This includes:
    • levelling wheel ruts
    • smoothing transitions with concrete foundations
    • removing debris such as bricks or blocks of wood
  • Only move augurs up and down slopes, and not across slopes.
  • Ensure appropriate policies and procedures are in place. This includes regularly monitoring, reviewing and, if necessary, revising systems of work.

Legal duties

Employers have duties under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004. Their duties include the following:

  • Providing and keeping a working environment that is safe and without risks to health.
  • Providing and maintaining plant and systems of work that are safe and without risks to health.
  • Providing employees with information, instruction, training or supervision. Employers must meet a standard when fulfilling this duty. They must provide what is necessary for employees to work safely.
  • Ensuring people who are not employees are not exposed to risks from the employer's conduct.

Employers must fulfil these duties so far as is reasonably practicable.

Under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017, employers must eliminate the risk of powered mobile plant overturning. If this is not reasonably practicable, they must reduce the risk as far as is reasonably practicable.

Employers and self-employed people must also:

  • identify all hazards associated with the use of plant at the workplace
  • control risks associated with plant according to the plant hierarchy of control
  • ensure the plant is inspected to the extent necessary to ensure that risks associated with its use are monitored

Designers, manufacturers and suppliers must provide adequate information on how to safely use the auger. They must specify necessary conditions that will ensure the auger is safe and without risks to health, if used for its intended purpose.