I know health and safety isn’t the most riveting of topics for anyone, often relating to a telling-off or a lecture, but with the rate of fatal injuries in agriculture 21 times higher than the all-industries average, it is undeniably something that needs addressing.
We have all been there, caught up in the moment thinking “if I do not do this in time”, or “I have not got time for that”, worrying the whole farming business will collapse. And believe me, I get that. Crops do not drill themselves, and there is not a second to spare when the unpredictable weather forecast is playing you like a fiddle.
So how is it that if agriculture is the industry that has the most fatal injuries, and has been for decades, nothing has changed? Well, I think we all know exactly why.
'Everyone feels invincible until something goes wrong'
As farmers, we are stubbornly independent and proud (as we absolutely should be). We really are the jacks of all trades.
We are in that tractor bailing up straw, we are in the cherry picker fixing that pipe or helping grandma pick the out-of-reach plums, we are in that shed with that calving heifer, we are in that workshop welding that gate. We are, and we do, everything that the farm asks of us because we are driven, determined and committed. We are downright invincible.
But everyone feels invincible until something goes wrong.
For us on the farm back home, this foreign and outlandish concept of not being invincible became all too apparent in January 2019, when my dad, Rob, suddenly became paralysed.
“When you are next out on the farm, take that extra second to put your seatbelt on, turn off that engine, pick up the phone if you are feeling low, and make an effort to let someone know where you are and what you are up to, because yes, you are brilliant but you are not invincible."
Student & Young Farmer Ambassador, Darcy Johnson
Carrying out the weekly Monday morning routine of clearing the alleyways out for the cattle, the corner of the bucket caught the metal stanchion of the shed. Even at low speed, the combination of the classic bouncy seat and inherent curve of the Claas Scorpion windscreen resulted in my father launching out of the seat, and colliding with the glass above him – apparently it is known as a bullseye.
I was in sixth form. Mum was at work. My sister was travelling the east coast of Australia. An invincible man found himself utterly helpless – paralysed and unable to reach his mobile phone in his top pocket. Not a soul would be wondering where he was, perhaps until mum and I returned home that evening.
My father and my family count our blessings for Grampy turning up that day out of the blue. Harmlessly, just wanting to get out of the house, he clambered into the Land Rover to scout about the farm and see what was growing and if the snowdrops had started to flower under the hedges – little did he know what he would find, but thank goodness he did.
The emergency services dealt with the rest, and for us, the hour-and-a-half trip to Southmead Hospital ICU in Bristol became all too familiar. The good nature of our family, friends and neighbours shone through with support to keep the farm operating and the family from crumbling.
After six months of intensive physio, training, and time to heal; alongside his stubbornly independent and proud self, having been told he may never walk again, he did. In less than a year he was back working on the farm, but will forever be living with the lasting effects of his spinal cord injury. Sometimes I wonder where our family and the farm we love so much would be if the odds had not been so in our favour, and I can feel a lump in my throat just thinking about it.
'Take that extra second'
I can almost guarantee some of you readers have been clearing out your cattle before and scraped a little too close to the wall, or in fact been in any scenario where you’ve come away thinking to yourself: ‘that was lucky’.
You cannot live your life worrying about what may or may not happen, but you can take a minute to flip the coin and appreciate how much you mean to your parents, your kids, your siblings, your best mate – because I can guarantee you mean a lot more to them than you think.
So when you are next out on the farm, take that extra second to put your seatbelt on, turn off that engine, pick up the phone if you are feeling low, and make an effort to let someone know where you are and what you are up to, because yes, you are brilliant but you are not invincible, and those few seconds might just save your life.
“My response to everyone is to always wear your lap belt. I obviously wear my lap belt now and it was not long before it just became second nature to click it on.”
“It was just a routine winter job in early January 2019. A job that I had done hundreds of times before, but on this occasion it did not end well.
“I still cannot believe what happened to me at such a low speed. I guess I was just unlucky that day. During the three months that followed, in hospital, I was really fortunate to have so many visitors from all walks of life. They were a massive help to me as, not being able to move initially from the neck down, time did drag quite a bit. I was surprised by how many of my friends involved in agriculture could tell me that they had similar experiences in telehandlers but with less serious outcomes.
“My response to everyone is to always wear your lap belt. I obviously wear my lap belt now and it was not long before it just became second nature to click it on. So my advice to anyone reading this is: give it a go and I am sure it would become second nature for you too, and may help you avoid a lengthy stay in hospital – or worse!”