Please wear your seatbelt when driving a tractor

A farmer who was killed after the tractor he was driving skidded and rolled on a steep and slippery slope on his King Country farm may have lived, had he been wearing a seatbelt.

Coroner Louella Dunn​ has just released her findings into the death of 79-year-old Eric Wohlers,​ who was feeding out silage to stock on his hilly farm on Carter Rd, east of Te Kuiti, when the accident happened about 8.30am on September 12, 2020.

Wohlers lived alone on the 300-acre farm. His wife Heather had died in 2016, but he had stayed living and working on the property.

As Coroner Dunn noted in her inquiry, Wohlers was in the final stages of selling the land to his neighbour and friend, Walter Walker, and the pair had an agreement that Wohlers could keep living on the farm for five years rent-free.

On the morning the accident happened, it had recently been raining and the ground in the grassy paddock, which had a moderate-to-steep grade, was sodden.

As Wohlers was travelling down a steep incline on a grassy track on the Kubota L5450 tractor, the vehicle’s tyres apparently lost traction. He evidently hit the brakes – however he was towing a “bale buggy” trailer loaded with silage that weighed about 1000 kilograms.

The bale buggy jackknifed with the tractor, pushing the back wheels sideways and causing it to roll.

Wohlers was thrown from the cab and the 2-tonne tractor rolled on top of him, crushing the upper half of his body and killing him instantly.

Walker was doing stock work on his property when he spotted the tractor and bale buggy lying against a boundary fence, not long after the crash.

An investigation found no mechanical issue of any kind with the tractor.

A full investigation was made by both the Waikato Serious Crash Unit and WorkSafe prior to the coroner’s inquiry.

In her findings, Dunn recommended operators of all rural machinery wear seatbelts where they were available, and she also endorsed the SCU and WorkSafe’s comments encouraging “continuing education for rural employers and employees be provided on negotiating slopes while towing”.

“As noted ... Eric would not have been ejected from the driver’s seat if he had been wearing a seatbelt, which may have prevented the fatal injuries he suffered.”

Seatbelts are not compulsory on tractors, however it is recommended they are worn if they are fitted.

“They should be reminded that towing heavy loads on hilly countryside can lead to loss of control.”

Source Stuff - 5th September