Farm Safety Week 2016 Day 2 - ‘Farmed & Dangerous?’ (Machinery Safety)

5 July 2016

The second day of this year’s Farm Safety Week focuses on machinery safety.

Poorly used or faulty machinery is a major cause of death and injury on farms. Farmers come into contact with a host of different machines daily – from static plant to mobile machines such as combines and potato harvesters, choppers and balers – all of which bring their own dangers. Hands, hair and clothing can be caught unguarded moving parts such as pulleys and belts, as well as PTO shafts. People are also regularly injured by front-end loaders, falling from a moving tractor or being struck by wheels or parts of machines. 

Accidents can be prevented by keeping the machine in good repair, fitting and ensuring all safety equipment (such as guards, safe access platforms and ROPS on tractors) are fitted and operating at all times, and by not taking risks when working with working machinery.

Alan Plom (RIG Vice Chair and IOSH representative on the Board of the Farm Safety Partnership, who chairs the Partnership’s Transport & Machinery Safety Group) was quoted in today’s Farm Safety Foundation’s Press Release: “Over the course of this week, we will have five days, five themes and five countries with one very clear question to farmers – Have you thought about “Who Would Fill Your Boots?” if you were to have a farm accident... 

Today’s case study features Darren Taylor, a sheep farmer and contractor from Bolton Percy in North Yorkshire, who has shared his own experience to highlight the dangers and dreadful consequences of a serious injury.  After losing limbs in a life changing accident involving a potato harvester two and a half years ago, Darren is all too aware of how easily a risk that you have taken “a million times before” can change your life forever…

Darren was running the harvester early one morning, alone, in preparation for a day’s work. He tried to kick a stone out of the cleaning system at the back of the machine – something he admits to having done “a million times before”.  However, this time his foot got caught in the contra-rotating rollers and he was pulled into the unforgiving mechanism.  As he tried to free himself, his left arm and his other leg also got drawn in. He was trapped in the machine and alone in the field for around 25 minutes, before two colleagues arrived for work and raised the alarm.

It took 90 minutes to extricated Darren, because the manufacturer’s had to be called in to dismantle the machine. He was airlifted to Leeds General Infirmary where he was put into an induced coma for eight days. He underwent three major operations (each lasting 15-20 hours) in quick succession and was on dialysis because the accident had left so many toxins in his bloodstream. He spent three months in hospital and had to go to theatre just to have his dressings cleaned.

Coincidentally, the terrifying ordeal of his rescue and his recovery in hospital was filmed for the BBC and featured in their TV programmes ‘Helicopter Heroes’ and ‘Countryfile’. [More information about this incident and others involving harvesters was included in a previous RIG News item from 2014.]

Two-and-a-half years later, Darren is ‘starting again’ and his steely determination is both courageous and inspirational. He lost his right leg below the knee and his left leg right up to his hip. His left arm had to be removed from just below the elbow, but was sewn back on. However, he cannot bend his arm and he only has limited use of his hand. Darren also still has nightmares about his accident.

As Darren admitted, kicking a stone out of the back of the harvester was something he had done a million times before – and something he saw others do all the time.  “It was one of those flinty stones, they get in and they stick,” he recalls.

“What’s ironic is the first time I tried to get it out I actually switched the machine off, but I couldn’t hear where it was so I put the machine back on. The only thing I can think of that was different that day was that I had a new pair of boots on and they were a bit softer. I was unlucky – and more unlucky to be on my own. If someone had been with me I would probably only have lost a foot.”

Nowadays, Darren thinks he is more safety conscious, particularly for others. He also feels his accident has changed the way his colleagues think and work. He added: “Farming is weather-related and there are big pressures just to get on with things. I want to make money like anyone else, but for the sake of 10 minutes, switch machines off. I’m 47 and have had a big part of my life, but I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy.

“Farm machinery is generally much safer than it used to be but it’s also a lot stronger. It’s become so good that you do a lot more work on your own. When things do go wrong the machines are less forgiving. Thirty years ago I would probably have been able to stop the harvester myself, but not now.”

Alan Plom also commented: “Everybody in farming knows somebody who has been injured or killed in an accident. Organisations like the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution (R.A.B.I.) offer invaluable support to people like Darren and are happy to support Farm Safety Week. Asking farmers to consider Who Would Fill Your Boots?’ seems like the right thing to do given the consequences of taking constant risks when working. One day your luck could run out. One day it could be you.”

Alan added: “This Farm Safety Week we are echoing Darren’s call not to rely on luck when working. Agricultural machinery is dangerous and can rip off a limb or kill in seconds. Make sure you use the SAFE STOP approach, ie ensure equipment is switched off when making routine checks or maintenance and always take your time to think about what you are doing and what might go wrong, because making a few simple checks could actually save a life – maybe your own!”

RIG will again be extending the ‘Week’ into the weekend, when we will also be giving advice on emergency procedures (and health issues).

Further information

…. And please also don’t forget to keep reading and ‘retweeting’ the IOSH and ‘Yellow Wellies’ #farmsafetyweek posts on Twitter. [If you haven’t signed up, then do it now!]  Thank you.

See today's 'Top Tips' poster for safe use of machinery 

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