IT APPEARS the likelihood of a compulsory MOT-style test for tractors has receded following a consultation by the Health and Safety Executive – but don”t breathe a sigh of relief just yet.

After meetings with the Department for Transport and other industry bodies, it was decided that current legislation to enforce vehicle maintenance was not working, and an alternative route had to be found to reduce accident levels.

“Having found that poor machine care was to blame for many accidents, we had to find an effective way to ensure maintenance is carried out,” says Frank Perkins of the HSE.

“We discovered fairly quickly that the softly, softly” approach was not going to work with farmers and it was decided that greater levels of enforcement and prosecution are needed.”

To achieve this, the HSE is planning to work with VOSA – the DfT”s vehicle inspectorate – to target agricultural vehicles by increasing the number of roadside checks, prohibiting the use of vehicles that do not meet required safety standards and prosecuting offenders when failings are found.

Tractors and other agricultural kit must comply with PUWER (Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations) which state that equipment must be “maintained in an efficient state, in efficient working order and in good repair”.

To help ensure machinery does not fall foul of the law, BAGMA – the British Agricultural and Garden Machinery Association – runs a vehicle health check scheme.

The recent decision by the HSE and DfT has led BAGMA to review the scheme to make it more accessible to farmers.

“We haven”t had a massive uptake for the scheme until recently, but dealers are now receiving requests from farmers for some sort of recognised maintenance plan,” says Ian Jones, director general of BAGMA.

“That”s exactly what the Vehicle Health Check does. Farmers have a record to show that machines are properly maintained and safe – very important should an accident occur and the HSE gets involved.”

The HSE has stated that if an accident is investigated, it is likely to act more leniently as long as the vehicle involved has been regularly checked over and maintained.

The BAGMA scheme is a straightforward procedure that requires a simple checklist to be filled in. Also, it does not necessarily need to be completed by dealers.

“Competent farm workshop staff can carry out the health check, which should only take an hour,” says Mr Jones. “It covers all areas, from visibility right through to trailer-hitch wear.

“The only part that farm staff will struggle with is brake testing – there is guidance for a basic check, but for an accurate picture you would need to visit a dealer who owns some sort of brake-testing device.”

BAGMA is promoting the use of a brake-testing unit from Cheshire-based Turnkey Instruments. Developed for commercial vehicles, the wireless unit is placed in the tractor cab and, after an emergency braking procedure at 8kph (5mph), it measures the efficiency of the machine”s brakes.

“Regularly checking vehicles over and keeping a record of maintenance procedures should ensure that you stay within the law,” adds Mr Jones.