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Tractor incident ends in tragedy and $45k penalty

By Michael Selinger

A company managing a vineyard was hit with nearly $45,000 in costs following the death of a worker last year.

In WorkSafe Victoria v Ackdale Pty Ltd (July 2018), Ackdale was responsible for managing the vineyard at Sir Paz Estate in Wandin East, Victoria.

While the plant and machinery was owned by the vineyard’s proprietor, it was Ackdale’s responsibility to maintain the plant, which included the tractor.

The events

On 23 March 2017, labour hire pickers had been harvesting grapes. Two of the workers transferred the grapes to a container at the back of the tractor.

One worker noticed that the tractor was moving despite the driver’s seat being empty. Another labourer was then discovered pinned under the rear right-hand wheel of the tractor.

The worker died at the scene.

It wasn’t clear how the worker became pinned under the tractor wheel. However, the tractor had many defects, including a faulty ignition key system that allowed the tractor to be started by anyone with a flat head screwdriver. Additionally, the tractor was not fitted with a roll-over protection system and could not be put into third gear.


Ackdale pleaded guilty to the following breaches of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004:

  • Section 21(1): The duty to, so far as is reasonably practicable, provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to health; and
  • Section 21(2)(a): The duty to provide or maintain plant or systems of work that are, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health.

The tractor’s safety issues had exposed the grape harvesting workers to a risk of death or serious injury as a result of being crushed.

Melbourne Magistrates’ Court ordered that Ackdale pay a fine of $40,000 and costs of $4,115.

Lessons for employers

This decision stresses the importance of maintaining and repairing plant and machinery.

In particular, employers should ensure that plant and machinery can only be turned on and used by authorised persons, and risk protection systems should be installed wherever possible.

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