This short presentation describes a preventable workplace incident where a worker in Washington state was killed on the job and is narrated by the L & I safety inspector who conducted the investigation. To view the narration script, click on the button on the lower right corner of the screen. To move between slides, or view a particular slide again, click on the same lower right hand corner button and then click on the back and forward arrows at the bottom of the screen.
Hello, this is Steve Yunker with the Division of Occupational Safety and Health where I work as a safety inspector. 2010 was a bad year for tractor rollovers in Washington state. 5 workers were killed in tractor rollovers this year – 4 in agriculture and 1 with a local government agency. A sixth rollover accident occurred with another local municipality where the operator was badly injured, but survived. This presentation will give the details of one of those fatalities where a 32 year old farmworker who could have survived if only the foldable rollbar had been in the up position.
In some areas of Washington, fruit orchards have been planted on slopes, sometimes fairly steep. These slopes can be can be risky or dangerous places to operate a tractor. Most orchard tractors are the low-profile type since they must frequently be operated in orchard rows where there is limited clearance from overhanging branches. Because of these branches, rollover bars cannot be used in many orchard blocks with narrow areas between the tree rows. But they often can be equiped with a rollbar that can be folded down when in the trees and folded back up when space and overhead clearance allow it.
The worker had been mowing in a block of cherries with a Kubota tractor and had been directed to go to a nearby block of grapes after he was done with the cherries. Seeing this patch of unmowed ground, he had apparently decided to mow it first before going on to the grapes. The mower, attached to the back of the tractor weighed about 1700 pounds or nearly 800 kilos.
It appears the worker was backing up to mow the small patch of grass in the middle of the screen, but his mower impacted the ground on the uphill side of the tractor. To clear the ground, he raised up the mower as far as it would go, which raised the center of gravity. This, combined with effect of the slope, caused the tractor to roll over. Since the foldable roll bar attached to tractor was not up, he had no protection whatsoever and the tractor landed on top of him, impacting his head and chest and killing him. This slide showed an animation of the incident.
This photo shows the tractor with the heavy mower attached. The green tractor in the photo was used to raise the overturned tractor to remove the worker underneath it after another employee discovered the tractor upside down. That employee had called 911, but when the EMS personnel arrived and the worker was pulled out from underneath the tractor, he was pronounced dead.
This photo shows the lack of space under the overturned tractor.
The tractor was in fact equipped with a foldable roll bar, but it was in the down position at the time of the accident.
The lefthand photo shows a similar tractor with the roll bar or ROPS (rollover protective structure) extended as it should have been. The photo on right shows how a ROPS can prevent complete rollover. A seatbelt must be worn by the operator to prevent him from falling off the tractor or being hit by roll bar in the event of a rollover.
This drawing shows how the use of roll bars or ROPS can prevent a fatality if a tractor rolls over. The ROPS creates survivable space in the event of a rollover, and a seatbelt keeps the operator in that survivable space.
The employer was cited for failure to ensure that ROPS were used wherever possible. Two fatal mistakes were made in this incident – the roll bar was not raised in an area with no overhead clearance restrictions and the mower was raised up too high on a slope.
Some common misconceptions are: “I don’t need ROPS because this is an orchard.” Or: “I don’t need ROPS because this is flat ground.” In fact, the exemption from ROPS only applies for low profile tractors where the vertical clearance requirements would substantially interfere with normal operations, and for work related to these uses. The bottom line is, if ROPS can be used, they must be used. It may be that ROPS can be used in a particular block during spring mowing, but not during summer spraying or fall harvest when the branches are heavy with fruit.
Our goal is not simply to comply with a specific rule, but to “Keep Washington Safe and Working” making sure that each worker can go home to his or her family at the end of every work day.