What’s your greatest fear? Chances are you have a few responses but they feel like a faint possibility in the faraway future. Stephanie Berkeley speaks to one woman with a definitive answer to that all-powerful question because she met it head on.
It’s almost five years since 19 year old Harry Christian-Allan was killed in what has been described as a tragic but ‘preventable’ incident. Since that day, his mother, Jane, has become a farm safety activist, a fighter, campaigning tirelessly for improvement in trailer maintenance checks, and set up a new national maintenance standard in his memory…
It doesn’t seem like 5 years ago, not to Jane. “The thing is,” she says, “I could tell you what happened each and every year since Harry died, but in a way it is like it was yesterday, it is all still very raw. And the battle itself is constant.”
Jane Gurney meets me in a Farm Shop in Stoneleigh Park with her daughter Frances after a Farm Safety Partnership meeting. Jane introduced the FSP to Tilly Your Trailer, the trailer safety campaign the family set up to encourage farmers and tractor drivers to get their trailers serviced annually and to perform daily checks to ensure they are safe.
Harry, a talented law student, had been carrying out casual harvest work with a local company during the summer break. Three weeks into the job, he was asked to transport grain from one location to another a few miles away. Unfortunately, during this journey, the tractor and tandem-axle trailer combination Harry was driving appeared to lose control on a downhill section of road.
It failed to negotiate a roundabout and struck a bridge. Harry sustained major injuries and tragically died in hospital.
An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the trailer on the tractor Harry had been driving at the time was fitted with drum-type brakes that had not been correctly adjusted, rendering them ineffective.
Following a trial, Harry’s employer was found guilty of breaching Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, meaning it had failed in its duty to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work of an employee. It was also found guilty of breaching Regulation 5 of the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 relating to maintenance of equipment.
“I’m a Sagittarius.” says Jane “I’m not someone who fades into the background. Harry’s death was absolutely devastating for the whole family, but I felt that, because of how it happened, I really had to do something. I had to use my voice.”
Life since Harry’s death, she admits, has been difficult. “People meet me and some don’t know how to speak to me anymore. They see me pushing Tilly Your Trailer and they think, ‘She’s doing really well’, but nobody really knows what happens behind closed doors, and it has been quite traumatic.”
“I’m not doing this by choice but I’m glad I’m doing it, if that makes any sense? I was forced into this position because if farmers carried out routine maintenance checks on trailers, their brakes, tyres, hydraulics etc. Harry would be still with us and I wouldn’t have had to take up the mantle. The fact that I am out there trying to drive real change is something I honestly wish hadn’t happened but it has and this is how I’m dealing with it.
“People might say, ‘But you’re in the papers and people know you’. You know what? I’d rather not have any of that. I’d rather have Harry back.”
So what is a Tilly?
The Tilly Test, named after the family dog, is an 18 point check carried out by a growing army of Tilly your Trailer approved testers to ensure that new and used trailers perform reliably, efficiently and, most importantly, safely.
All testers must be fully qualified mechanics and must undergo strict vetting in order to join the ranks of Tilly testers.
The comprehensive service profile includes:
1. Check TRAILER lights are functioning correctly.
2. Check tyres have legal tread depth, no cuts, bulges, or cord/thread showing.
3. Check towing eye thickness.
4. Check suspended draw bar U bolts &springs if applicable
5. Check drawbar & chassis for cracks.
6. Check Axle springs and U bolts including rocking beams if applicable.
7. Check all pins & bushes.
8. Check the ram seals.
9. Check all hydraulic pipes, connectors & air lines for cuts, chafing & leaks.
10. Check brake shoes and shoe springs for adjustment.
11. Check brake drums for excessive wear, grooves and thickness.
12. Check wheels studs & nuts.
13. Check there are no structural cracks or holes by raising the tipping bed if applicable.
14. Check the tailgate is secure & is not leaking.
15. Check the hand/park brake and cable.
16. Check the appropriate stand is in good working order.
17. Check wheel bearings for wear if necessary clan and re-pack.
18. Check all grease points are made serviceable.
Trailers which have been checked and serviced by the qualified mechanic are given a distinctive sticker so drivers know the equipment is safe. Each sticker includes the chassis number and trailer owners receive a certificate to verify their equipment’s safety.
As Jane explains: “When you see the red Tilly sticker, you know a fully qualified mechanic has inspected your trailer. In only twelve months we have grown to 200 outlets nationwide and this year we will have 3,000/4,000 trailers carrying the Tilly which is amazing and frightening in equal measure. It’s quite frightening just how many farmers think they are doing the right checks but really aren’t. Recently, we had one farmer bring his trailer in which looked great but actually had 11 things wrong with it that he just couldn’t see. An uneducated farmer is a dangerous farmer and the danger is real. Believe me I know.”
“The tragedy is that like most farm incidents, Harry’s death was preventable. If his equipment had been checked by a professional it would have been obvious that it wasn’t fit for the road.
“We need to encourage people across the industry to take professional responsibility for their trailers, then hopefully we can prevent anything like this from happening again.”
To learn more about Tilly Your Trailer visit www.tillypass.co.uk or follow them on Twitter @tilly-trailer