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June 19, 2013

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Famous cheese-maker to pay £120,000 over tractor fatality

A young Somerset farm worker who was driving a tractor that had no seat belt, cab bar, or roll-over bar was killed when the vehicle turned over in a sloping field.

Bristol Crown Court heard on 18 June that 26-year-old Kim Webb, from North Cadbury, was working in the field near the town on 26 June 2009. The tractor she was driving was used regularly by employees of JA&E Montgomery Ltd, maker of the well-known Montgomery Cheddar cheese.

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 and 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 in the event the vehicle rolled over. Inspectors also found that the vehicle’s brake pedals couldn’t be linked together, making it unsuitable to be driven on the road.

There was no effective training provided for workers using the tractor. The court heard that, 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.

JA&E Montgomery Ltd 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.

The company, of Manor Farm, North Cadbury, pleaded guilty to breaching section 2(1) of the HSWA 1974. It was fined £80,000 and ordered to pay £40,000 in prosecution costs.

In its defence, it offered its early guilty plea and said it had taken steps to improve the situation and address its failings. Although it had been prosecuted for a tractor-related safety offence before — in 2000 — it said it had a good record, and the judge stated that the previous offence did not indicate a pattern of non-compliance.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Leo Diez, said: “Tractors must have some form of roll-over protection for the driver, including a cab or 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.

“All of these precautions have been around for years, so they should have been known about. The risk of tractors overturning — even on flat surfaces — is also well-known. This is why it is so important to have these precautions in place.

“You can’t prevent a tractor from overturning but if these precautions had been in place, Kim Webb would probably still be alive. It is sad that most accidents in the agriculture sector can be easily prevented. There is plenty of information on the HSE website so there really is no excuse.”

Ms Webb’s father, Terry, expressed his family’s devastation over her death and said: “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.”

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

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11 years ago

Yet again a company is allowed to repeat its H&S failings. The question should be raised as to the action taken against the company in 2000. If appropriate action had been taken and followed through then perhaps this tragic incident would not have happened. Incidents should be followed through by the enforcing authority, if they are not then this fatality is an example of the pobable outcome.

cynthia ozobu
cynthia ozobu
10 years ago

Having reviewed the case study, i was of the opinion that the company were also in breach of PUWER 1998 regulation AND MHSW 1999 regulations. Please can any body in the house elaborate on this. If that is the case, why was the criminal proceedings did not mention the other regulations in breach.

Edward Snowden
Edward Snowden
10 years ago

Just read this on my travels and it’s such a tragedy. This firm need to be kept under regular observation by the HSE to make sure it doesn’t offend for a third time.

Wolf Law
Wolf Law
10 years ago

Incredibly sad that a young life has been needlessly lost.