Vehicle-related deaths remain the biggest killer of agricultural workers in the UK. Lauren Dean finds out just how important it is to keep on top of trailer maintenance.
About 70 per cent of second-hand agricultural trailers have more than two things wrong with them and are not safe for use.
Bedfordshire farmer Jane Gurney has been collating the figures since August 2014 when her 19-year-old son Harry Christian-Allan was killed three weeks into his summer job.
The brakes on a trailer he was towing had failed.
The family – including Harry’s four siblings, have since launched Tilly Your Trailer, a voluntary initiative which offers trailer owners the opportunity to take 12-monthly inspections from fully qualified mechanics.
In return, they receive official certification and a red and white sticker on the back of the trailer to prove their vehicle has been maintained and is up to scratch.
Taking the name of the family pet dog, Tilly, and using her as the scheme’s mascot, Tilly Your Trailer has seen more than 1,000 farmers join since the scheme began in April last year.
This year it will see 3,000-4,000 trailers carrying the sticker.
Harry’s case took about three-and-a-half years to get through the courts and in that time his family and friends thought up the initiative to help make a difference to others.
Mrs Gurney said: “Tilly Your Trailer was simple and it rolled off the tongue. And that is how it all came about.”
In the case of Harry, he had been given three faulty trailers, one after the other, to make a return trip with oilseed rape.
The wheel bearing had gone in the first, the second had a leaky tailgate, and the third had faulty brakes.
“Harry was on hydraulic brakes and the lad who had been driving it in the morning had a bigger tractor and an air-brake facility,” Ms Gurney said.
“In that case they were either unaware or they were not alerted to it fully and at full braking capacity, one wheel was only braking at 40 per cent.
“On an incline Harry could not stop the trailer and he hit a flyover. That was that.”
The farm in question, G.W. Topham and Sons, was prosecuted by Cambridge Crown Court and found guilty of numerous breaches by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), including that the trailer was fitted with drum-type brakes which had not been correctly adjusted, rendering them ineffective.
It was fined £400,000 and ordered to pay costs of more than £67,000.
“But 41 people were killed by trailer incidents last year, not just on farms. That is a tremendous amount of people,” Ms Gurney said.
The Tilly Your Trailer initiative was created as an 18-point trailer inspection, designed in a tick-box format to help ensure trailers were correctly serviced and maintained by a qualified mechanic.
The test sees all the wheels taken off, all the bearings looked at and the brake linings checked.
The list also includes simple checks including ensuring trailer lights are functioning correctly, tyres have the legal tread depth with no cuts, bulges or cord showing, and checks on towing eye thickness.
Other points include checking hydraulic pipes, connectors and air lines for cuts, chafing and leaks, checking brake drums for excessive wear, grooves and thickness, and checking all grease points are made serviceable.
The scheme has about 200 outlets on-board throughout the country, including some groups of dealerships and some independent mechanics, and each mechanic works through the inspection sheet.
It is signed and dated by the mechanic before the top sheet goes to the farmer to confirm he has had the inspection.
The middle copy stays with the dealer, and the bottom copy goes to Tilly Your Trailer to be logged and quality-checked against the mechanic on file.
The Tilly Pass
One of the trailer manufacturers, Harry West, decided that every trailer made to go out of his dealership as brand new would be carry the Tilly logo, known as the Tilly Pass.
Ms Gurney said: “They came up with the Tilly From New logo which is a Union Jack. So when you see a Union Jack, you know the trailer is 12-months old or less.
“Some go straight out of the factory with these on and some go out at pre-delivery inspection.”
Many other trailer manufacturers are also supporting the Tilly Pass.
In Ms Gurney’s opinion the spare trailer is often the dangerous trailer. It is ‘the one you want in a hurry but also the one you keep as a spare because it is coming to the end of its life and you have replaced it’.
Farmers should instead be doing daily and pre-season checks of the trailers and working in uniform with one another.
“What we are also saying is an uneducated farmer is actually quite dangerous,” Ms Gurney said.
“The issue is the chap who has been working there for years has been tinkering with the trailer, but the father is tinkering and so is the son.
“What we want people to do is be uniformed in what they are doing and telling each other. I cannot tell you how important it is we think about the whole trailer, which in Harry’s case had a number of things wrong with it.
“We need to encourage people across the industry to take professional responsibility for their trailers, then hopefully we can prevent anything like this happening again.”
HSE head of agriculture Andrew Turner said initiatives such as Tilly Your Trailer were a great way of encouraging farmers to keep on top of their legal duties through routine trailer maintenance and record checking.
While there is no such requirement for road-worthiness testing on agricultural trailers, such as with an MOT for a car, there are legal requirements for maintenance and inspections.
An appropriate system would be to have the trailer inspected daily by the person who is about to use it.
Mr Turner said: “Where a trailer is used for agriculture it is exempt from road-worthiness testing but it does not mean farmers can ignore the maintenance.
“A check around the trailer to make sure you have not got a flat tyre or that the last person using it did not back into something and break the light is all it needs.
“Any faults found must be repaired properly, with proper attention being paid to the brakes. It is an ongoing duty.”
What the police look out for:
Traffic sergeant Ian Manley of Cambridgeshire Police said vehicles should be properly maintained and suitable for purpose, paying attention to the following points: