It was Saturday 16 October. I will never forget that day in a million years. I got up and was out the door about 7am. We had suckler cows on the farm and I was getting the calves on the creep feed – the first job of the day.
I’d grown up on the family farm and I couldn’t wait to get out of school and go farming. I went to agricultural college, worked abroad and then came home and went contracting. I’ve always loved farming and machinery.
After breakfast, we needed to split some firewood. So, I got everything set up – the circular saw and the firewood processor on the back of an old David Brown 885 I had. I knew if I got a good load done, I’d have a decent supply for the start of winter.
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There were big logs and small logs. I was cutting the big logs and chucking the small logs straight onto the elevator. I chucked a small log on the elevator with my left hand, and went to move a bigger log I was holding with my right hand, ready to make the next cut.
I’d got into some kind of rhythm with the machine and I was swinging the cutting table in with my hip. As I swung my left hand, my right hand came across and I pushed the table in with my hip. The next thing, I looked down and my hand was in the machine.
I remember seeing it at the bottom of the two-foot circular saw blade. I had chainsaw gloves on and it had ripped the glove clean off my hand. All I could see was a lot of blood and bits of bone. I instantly knew it was bad.
I knew my thumb was gone because it wasn’t there. I managed to step back from the machine and switch off the tractor. I just stood in the yard holding out my hand in a bit of a daze – just thinking: what are we going to do now?
I stood there for five minutes, maybe, and then I heard a quad bike coming. I knew it would be somebody from the farm – it was the young gamekeeper, Jonathan. He was really good and I got him to phone the ambulance.
I’d been on a first-aid course about six years before, and the guy had told us that a packet of Celox wound dressings and bandages could save your life. Since then, I always carried them with me on the tractor.
Jonathan fetched them from the tractor and we bound my hand. As we were waiting for the ambulance, I could see that the saw had cut right through the knuckle of my index finger too – I could see the tip of it poking through the bandage.
I remember thinking it shouldn’t be there, and I touched it. The pain was instant. I’ve never experienced anything like it. The ambulance took an hour-and-a-half to get to me and I was conscious the whole time. It was excruciating.
The accident happened at about 1.30pm and I think it was about 6pm before I went into the operating theatre. The thumb was gone, but they saved my finger and put my hand in a cast.
They told me I wouldn’t work for a year. I went back to work after eight weeks, but got an infection in my hand. I ended up back in hospital. Two or three of my good friends said to me: you know, your mental health is not good, you need help. We can see that.
I ended up calling a counsellor. Looking back now, it was the best thing I’ve ever done. In the next few months they completely turned my life around. I had made a lot of mistakes – my marriage had broken down and other things had gone wrong too.
Mental health was never something I had spoken about. Looking back, I know my accident was caused by poor health and safety practices, but the mental health side of it was probably equally responsible – if not more so.
Cutting firewood is a dangerous job. I should have had enough sense to realise I wasn’t in the right frame of mind. But I couldn’t make a straight decision because there was so much going on in my head
Now things are different. After the counselling, I can deal with things much better. I don’t get as stressed – situations that would once have wound me up don’t any more. My message is, if you feel you need help, pick up the phone.
The circumstances in which the incident occurred will sound familiar to many, but they are preventable, says Mia Bambury, health and safety consultant at Safety Revolution. She advises:
Farming has the highest number of workplace fatalities of all occupations. Farmers Weekly is pledging to use its voice, influence and reach to reduce the accident rate in agriculture.
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