Lights, tyres and brakes are the backbone of any farm trailer or trailed appliance.
And to avoid falling foul of the law, it is worth keeping an eye on much more, as Geoff Ashcroft finds out...
With recent legislation changes offering a higher gross combination weight for tractors and trailers – now 31 tonnes – there has never been a more pertinent time to go a step further than just kicking the tyres.
For Bristol-based Alvis Contracting, road-worthiness of kit and overall implement condition has always been a focus of attention.
But the firm has recently implemented a much more detailed series of changes, following a stop-check by the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) last year.
Daniel Harding who runs the contracting operation from Lyecross Farm, Redhill near Bristol, says: “One of our operators was stopped while travelling to a job with a faulty light on a slurry tanker.
On further inspection, a couple of additional faults came to light and as a result, our operator received three points on their driving licence and a £300 fine.
“We are anxious to avoid this in the future, so we have implemented a host of changes with how we address machinery checks and repairs,” he says.
The firm has spent the last 12 months developing its own series of check lists and walk-rounds for operators, to ensure kit is fully functional and road-worthy when it leaves the yard.
“We also run four trucks for milk collection and delivery services, so we have always had a degree of familiarity with HGV checks, regular maintenance and the value and responsibility of holding an O-licence [a licence applicable to goods vehicles],” he says.
“This is something we are now applying to our tractor and machinery fleet, to provide enhanced traceability with safety.”
This process started with the evolution of an HGV-style inspection sheet, which has been fine-tuned and adapted specifically to suit agricultural vehicles.
Overall condition: If it looks dodgy, chances are you stand a good chance of having a roadside inspection
Lights: These should all be working and visible, not covered in muck
Brakes: Brakes should be fully operational, as should a handbrake if fitted
Tyres: Check for cuts, bulges and tread depth
Drawbar: As the key link to the tractor, the towing ‘eye’ should be fit for purpose
Number plate: This should match at least one tractor in the fleet, registered to the business
“We have developed two workshop-based inspection forms,” he says.
“One for trailed and mounted equipment; and the other for powered vehicles. It has taken a while to create a useful working document, but we are happy with how it has shaped up.”
As a result, the firm is implementing a 12-weekly inspection regime for all its equipment. Though the changes do not stop there. The firm has also developed its own daily vehicle defect book, and one book is assigned to every tractor and powered machine.
“We expect our operators to take more responsibility for the kit they operate,” he says.
“We will give them the tools which are up to the task and fit for purpose – but they need to take ownership by making daily checks before they leave the yard.
"And there is time through the day to again make further checks to ensure their kit remains safe and legal. Any defects or faults which are found during the day can be reported and rectified without delay.”
Mr Harding and his team have also had to train their operators in the basics of carrying out daily checks, but the implementation of such due diligence is not without cost.
“We anticipate implementing these changes will cost us about £40,000 per year,” he says.
“The size of our machinery fleet has dictated that just inspecting our machinery will be a full-time task for one of our four workshop technicians.
"Then there is the cost of administration and back office staff to complete the recording process too. That is before the cost of repairing defects and faults are calculated.
“I would like to see some form of O-licensing applied to anyone involved in running a contracting operation,” he says.
“It will create a level playing field for the industry and raise the professionalism enormously. If safety is not taken seriously, operators could ultimately end up in jail.”
Chippenham-based SW Hire follows a strict regime when it comes to supplying trailers and tankers for its customers, as managing director Simon Williams explains.
“Before any of our kit goes out on hire, it goes through the workshops to be readied for use,” he says.
“We make a point of checking over everything, to make sure our kit is road-worthy and compliant before it goes out to a customer.”
SW Hire has developed its own check-list and is implementing software which prevents any of its kit being available for hire until it has been subjected to workshop checks.
“It is very much a live document,” he says. “If we find something which is not on the list – and it should be – then we will amend our processes to reflect that.”
With a fleet of more than 120 machines, comprising about 75 trailed items, the firm is keen to maintain the highest standards of safety for its customers.
“While there is no baseline in the agricultural industry, we have a duty of care to make sure our customers get equipment which is safe and legal,” he says. “Our paper-trail backs up what is checked and what is replaced.”
Mr Williams believes longer term, MoTs for tractors and trailed equipment would not be a bad thing.
“While MoTs could be challenging to implement, and they are not without cost, this would set a minimum safety standard for machinery on the road,” he says.
“And that would set a baseline to work to, rather than let operators do what they think is right.”