Farm Ireland

Wednesday 14 November 2018

In Pictures: Could this invention help reduce number of farm deaths?

Noel and Ger Hickey believe their Safe Shaft System will help reduce PTO-related farm accidents. Photo: Patrick Browne
Noel and Ger Hickey believe their Safe Shaft System will help reduce PTO-related farm accidents. Photo: Patrick Browne

Jamie Casey

After a decline of 40pc over the previous year, farm deaths and accidents spiked once again in 2016.

Waterford brothers Noel and Ger Hickey, who both work in the agri contracting and fabrication fields, noticed this trend and decided to apply their minds to the problem.

They noted in particular that PTO-related accidents continue to occur at an alarming rate.

The power and torque a PTO shaft transmits is enough to shred a a human limb in a fraction of a second.

Most of us are familiar with the demonstrations provided by the HSA for the last number of years, yet the carnage continues.

The speed at which the operator can be pulled into the rotating PTO shaft is frightening, with no time to react.

While a correctly guarded PTO shaft is safe, these guards are often damaged by the lift arms or the locking chain is broken or lost.

We've all been there, the guard becomes damaged and starts rotating with the shaft. Instead of fixing it immediately to eliminate the hazard, we push on to get the job finished.

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The repair then gets put on the long finger, but at what cost? Ask the families of entanglement victims who stared sadly at that empty chair during Christmas.

They would of course now gladly give the five minutes needed to repair the chain, or small cost of a new guard.

Safe Shaft system

Wanting to eliminate the problem for once and for all, the Hickey brothers developed the Safe Shaft System.

"We initially wanted to neutralise the safety issue of the PTO shaft, but during testing we discovered that the system offers many more benefits," explains Noel Hickey.

Every vacuum pump on the market today requires rotational input to operate. Generally, this rotational input has been provided by the conventional PTO shaft.

Seeking a safer alternative, the entrepreneurial brothers began testing a hydraulic drive system to replace the power take off shaft. But is this really new?

While many manufacturers now offer a hydraulic driven option from new, crucially until now there was no supplier on the market offering a retro fit kit.

The Safe Shaft System makes use of the existing gearing system within the pump, which reduces the necessary input speed, thereby reducing oil flow required.

The hydraulic drive system offered by most manufacturers is a direct drive to the rotor of the pump, whereas the Safe Shaft System is fitted onto the existing PTO stub shaft on the vacuum pump.

This means the Safe Shaft System can operate at a greatly reduced RPM, thereby reducing the levels of oil flow required to power the system.

Most tractors offer in the region of 120 litres per minute of oil flow, and Safe Shaft requires just 40 litres per minute to operate.

This is important as it leaves the remaining 80 litres per minute to operate auxiliary equipment such as macerators and trailing shoes, should they be present on the tanker.

Feedback has been ‘hugely positive’

I recently paid a visit to Co Waterford contractor Paddy Joe Mulhearne who was fitting the Safe Shaft System to his second Hi Spec 2300 gallon tanker.

The first prototype Safe Shaft System was fitted to another of Mulhearne’s tankers

for testing, and has since racked up almost 400 hours of test time.

“We wanted to test the system in Irish contracting conditions, so Mr Mulhearne agreed to run it on one of his tankers this year,” explained Noel Hickey. The feedback from testing was hugely positive, with only minor teething problems reported.

Retro fitting the system is very simple due to the modular design that suits each tanker manufacturer.  Delivered in kit form, the system needs to be assembled by the end user.

However, the assembly process is simple and can be undertaken by practically anyone who knows one end of a spanner from the other.

The kit consists of three structural items, along with the hydraulic motor and associated valves and hoses.

The basic system, which includes the hydraulic motor, the coupler, an anti-cavitation block allowing for soft start and soft finishing and the necessary hydraulic hoses retails at €1,600 plus VAT and delivery costs. There are several optional extras including electronic in-cab flow control, manual flow control at the pump and an in-cab digital readout of RPM. The unit is hot dip galvanised for corrosion protection and finish. For more information, and to see a video clip of the unit in operation visit, or take a look on Facebook. Noel Hickey can be contacted on 087-6380643.

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