As his alter ego, the nation’s critically acclaimed bar-based-braveheart, The Pub Landlord, Al Murray has always been full of fantastic anecdotes and he knows how to tell a story however he has only now revealed his role in saving a young farmworker’s life when he was 12.
For years, Al did not admit the role he played when 18 year old farm worker Chris Brown got his right arm trapped in a baler on a farm in Walsham le Willows, near Bury St Edmunds but has agreed to tell his story to support the fifth annual Farm Safety Week. “Not many people realise that farming is actually the most dangerous occupation in the UK and we should be talking about it more” explains the comedian. “Even I’ve had experience of this but I’ve just never talked about it.”
Al had been holidaying on his cousin’s farm during harvest time and had spent the day playing in the fields while his father, helped out with the combining. As Al was cycling back to the farmhouse, he heard cries for help coming from near one of the many machines in the field. He approached the cries and spied a young farm worker, trapped in a baler, in pain and losing a lot of blood. In a scene reminiscent of one of his alter egos tall tales the 12 year old Al tried to pull the trapped teen out of the machine by his boots.
Realising this tactic wouldn’t work, Al asked what he could do to help and was talked through the shutdown procedure for the machine by the stricken Chris. This wasn’t as easy as it sounds as Al explains “The tractor was Dutch so, the stop control, or the ‘whacking great knob’ as Chris described it, was located on the opposite side to where it should be.”
Al managed to stop the machine then raise the alarm and brought his father who dismantled the machine to dislodge the trapped arm and tourniquet the injury before the ambulance arrived to take Chris to hospital.
Thankfully this tale has a happy ending and the young farmworker did not lose his arm however this does highlight the constant dangers of working with machinery and the importance of following the SAFE STOP procedure. As Chris, himself admits; “I knew I was breaking every safety rule by not turning off the machine but, at 18 years of age, I was more concerned about getting my hair stuck in the baler than my arm!”
Fast forward nearly forty years and the same accidents are still happening and claiming the lives and limbs of too many of our nation’s farm workers. Today marks the start of the fifth annual Farm Safety Week, an initiative launched in 2013 aiming to reduce the number of accidents which continue to give farming the poorest record of any occupation in the UK & Ireland. This year’s Farm Safety Week is being supported by a greater number of organisations than ever including the Farm Safety Foundation, Farm Safety Partnerships, the Health & Safety Executive, Health & Safety Executive for Northern Ireland and the Health & Safety Authority, Ireland.
From quad bike accidents to animal attacks, farming still kills and injures more people than any other industry in the UK and Ireland – To mark the start of Farm Safety Week (24-28 July) HSE have announced their latest annual fatal injuries in agriculture report for Great Britain 2016/2017. Last year, 30 people were killed in agriculture, compared with 29 the year before. While the rate of worker deaths shows some sign of improving, an annual average of 29 worker deaths, compounded by 2 or 3 members of the public killed each year, is a record the industry must improve.
“Agriculture is a critical part of our economy.” explains Rick Brunt, Head of Agriculture, Waste and Recycling Sector, Health & Safety Executive. “But every year we have to report that agriculture has the poorest safety record of any occupation in the UK. This is made even more tragic by the fact that the deaths and injuries are avoidable. The precautions to prevent people being killed and maimed on farms are well known and can be easily applied.
“The Help Great Britain Work Well strategy reaffirms our commitment to work with partners on initiatives like Farm Safety Week to inform their activities and to drive forward improvements in safety performance. We know that we need to engage with farmers of all ages to tackle this poor safety record and make farms safer places to work.”
Despite over half of all fatal injuries occurring with older farmers over the age of 65, the fact remains that farm workers of any age run the risk of injury or death.
“Farming as an industry is absolutely vital to the UK economy – it is the bedrock of our food and drink industry. On a farm, as with any business, the number one resource is the people so why is it that year on year we are seeing these hard working and dedicated workers suffering life changing and life ending accidents?” asks Stephanie Berkeley from the Farm Safety Foundation, the charity behind Farm Safety Week.
“Many farmers think ‘farm safety last’ rather than ‘farm safety first’ but most of these accidents are avoidable. Unlike other occupations, farmers don’t normally retire at 65 and often work well into their 80s. Simple factors such as habit, haste, fatigue, and improperly maintained machinery contribute to this perfect storm but this Farm Safety Week, we hope that by hearing the stories of other farmers and extraordinary people like Al Murray who have had personal experience of farm accidents, we can get farmers of all ages to realise that this week, and every week, farm safety is a lifestyle, not a slogan.”
For more information on Farm Safety Week Follow @yellowwelliesUK on Twitter or search the hashtag #FarmSafetyWeek