In a recent survey into farmers across the UK carried out with our funder NFU Mutual, we found that many farmers need to be more aware of tiredness and realise how excessively long hours can play into the risks when farming. Almost seven in ten (69%) of those surveyed, identified tiredness as a major risk with most having taken, or seen others take, risks due to being tired.
Most farmers surveyed, have taken risks or have seen risks being taken as a result of both tiredness and rushing – from falling asleep at the wheel, to not taking proper safety precautions, to simply not tidying up properly. However, in farming, 15-hour days are seen as normal and tiredness, inevitable.
In August 2020, Max was six months into his new job, working on a farm with 600 head of beef and 2,000 acres of land.
He had spent a 16-hour day harvesting beans the day before the incident and knew he was feeling tired. He arrived on site as normal at 6am and the day just didn’t start well. Today would be the first time Max had work with potatoes and more specifically the potato harvester and, an hour into the job, there was a blockage in the rollers.
After some discussion with his colleague, Max decided that he would stand on the guard, stop the machine, check each rubber roller in return and gesture to his companion to turn the machine back on. Unfortunately, as they carried out this routine, they started to rush and skipped the step where the machine would be switched off and Max’s leg got caught between two moving rollers.
What happened next was the stuff of nightmares as Max waited in agony for three hours while the air ambulance, land ambulance and fire brigade arrived at the scene and worked out how best to free his legs without the necessity for amputation.
Max was treated for severe burns, fractured ankle and knee, torn muscles and blood poisoning but thankfully he didn’t lose the leg.
He now works at Brockhill School, a creative school in Kent with a working farm on site and he uses his personal experience to encourage the next generation of young farmers to understand the risks and hazards of working in an industry with the poorest safety record of any in the UK. Max inspires 11-18 year olds to think about their safety each and every day and to think about the risks of completing every farming task.
He is aware that he is one of the lucky ones and knows it could have been a lot worse but is urging everyone to support this year’s Farm Safety Week, take breaks, wake up to tiredness and rethink risk as one careless mistake can have life-changing consequences.
If you find that tiredness is affecting you, either on a personal or a professional level, or if you experience stress and depression, please reach out and seek immediate help: speak to someone you trust, talk to your GP or contact one of the support organisations highlighted in the National Directory of Rural and Farm Support Groups