Farming opinion: Keeping safe on our roads this harvest
PUBLISHED: 06:22 23 June 2018
I remember a friend telling me once that the saddest words in the English language were ‘if only’. I often reflect on the truth of this.
Whether it’s something we wish we had done or, indeed not done, it can often relate to a time when we might have had an accident.
We might think that some accidents are unavoidable. Many are but they are all a combination of hazard and risk and how we chose to deal with these two factors. We can’t live our lives risk free, but we can often do something about managing those risks, and reducing our chances of having an accident.
Agriculture does not have a good safety record. Second only to the construction industry, there were 27 fatal accidents last year on farm. In addition, in 2016 there were some 530 road accidents involving agricultural vehicles, resulting in 19 fatalities.
The Farm Safety Partnership, which includes the NFU and other agricultural organisations, has recently set a target to reduce the number of farming fatalities by at least 50% by the summer of 2023. There is also a strong campaign to improve awareness of vehicle safety on the roads.
There is no short cut to being safe and this is just as true for agricultural vehicles as it is for other road vehicles. All must be road worthy with equipment such as lights, indicators, brakes, tyres and number plates present and in working order.
Employers have additional duties to ensure that equipment is suitable for the purpose intended, well maintained and that those using the equipment are adequately trained. Providing defective vehicles and trailers for use at work can lead to enforcement action, as well as tragic outcomes on the road.
Tractors and trailers, combines and other large pieces of agricultural equipment will be out on the road at this time of year as harvest gets under way and there are a few golden rules for both farmers and other road users.
Farmers must ensure that all harvesting equipment has been fully serviced and checked for road worthiness.
Functioning effective brakes, correctly set, are a key element in making sure trailers are safe to be on the road.
With large modern tractors legally travelling at speeds of up to 25mph, braking efficiency has to be at least 25%. Any vehicle travelling over this speed will need a braking efficiency of 45%, which is in line with HGV requirements.
However, we must remember that for tractors and trailers road use is incidental to their main role of working in the fields so it is not appropriate to have the same degree of regulation as vehicles that spend all their time on the road.
Farmers must make sure they have notified the police of vehicles movements for vehicles over 3m wide, (with an escort for vehicles over 3.5m wide), travelling on roads with a speed limit of 40mph or less, or travelling distances of over 5 miles.
This is usually done by obtaining an annual dispensation from the police. The use of amber flashing beacons is useful, if not mandatory in some situations. And, of course, pulling over at suitable intervals in a safe place to let traffic pass is always welcomed.
Other road users should also be aware of a few simple rules relating to road safety, especially around junctions. We might all be in a hurry to get somewhere but careless overtaking can result in head-on collisions, a collision with the tractor which might be turning left into a field or yard, or a sideswipe from a tractor which might be towing a wide implement on a narrow lane.
There is also the problem of misjudging the speed of a tractor ahead and running into the back of it.
So please be careful and patient this harvest and let’s all try our best to stay safe when travelling around our county’s roads at this busy time of year.