$25,400 fine over death of worker

Last updated 12:10 02/04/2014

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A Waikato company has been fined $25,400 over the death of a worker killed by a runaway remote-controlled tractor in March last year.

Gursharan Singh was on his second day on the job harvesting broccoli when he was pulled under the wheels of a tractor at the Pukekawa farm of Sundale Farms Ltd.

The tractor was operated by a remote control system, so a driver did not have to sit at the controls, and was towing a trailer for loading broccoli, a WorkSafe NZ statement on the decision said.

The tractor had accelerated unexpectedly from its normal speed of 0.3kmh to 6.7kmh.

Singh tried to get on it to reach the controls.

He was caught by the left-hand rear wheel of the tractor, pulled to the ground and run over.

Sundale Farms pleaded guilty to one charge under the Health and Safety in Employment Act of failing to take all practicable steps to ensure Singh's safety, and was sentenced yesterday in the Pukekohe District Court.

WorkSafe NZ's chief investigator, Keith Stewart, said Singh was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident and was acting contrary to instructions.

But Sundale Farms could have taken some simple steps to make its operation safer.

"The tractor was checked at the start of each day to see that it was working correctly, but there was no routine maintenance programme.

"Its systems should have been checked regularly, and preventative maintenance carried out.

"An inhibitor switch in the gear selector should also have been installed to ensure that remote operation was only possible in the low-gear range. And an emergency stop system should have been installed on the harvesting trailer so the workers present on the trailer, when it ran away, could have stopped the tractor.

"Mr Singh was attempting to mount the tractor when he was killed."

Remote control tractor systems were commonly used for harvesting around the country, Stewart said, and he hoped lessons learned from this incident would help prevent further tragedies.

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- Waikato

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