'I didn't pull the zip up on my coat. I lost my arm and nearly died because of it'

William Sayers.
William Sayers.

Mark Bain

A Co Tyrone farm accident survivor has issued a stark warning on farm safety.

On the first day of the 2019 Balmoral Show, local meat processor ABP hosted a special event putting farm safety centre stage.

The audience, which consisted of ABP's farmer suppliers and stakeholders heard about the life-changing consequences of injuries sustained by two farm accident survivors.

William Sayers (41), the son of a dairy farmer from Donemana near Strabane, lost his arm when he was 12-years-old as a result of a farm machinery accident.

His father lost a leg when he was two-years-old in 1939 and his uncle, also William, died in a farming accident aged 25.

"My dad George had always warned me about safety and after being called in to dinner, my mum told me to put a coat on if I was going back out. I did, but didn't pull the zip up. Simple as that.

"It's a machine I'd used many times before. There was about two inches of an opening in the machinery on the back of my dad's tractor, a vacuum pump. My coat caught. I was pulled in. That should have been the end of me."

William's arm was gone, he suffered a head injury and the skin of his back was still attached to his coat when recovered later.

"It was traumatic," he said. "I remember my dad taking me to the hospital and at that stage he knew I was going to die. I was holding my shoulder. It felt like a piece of raw steak, but the shock had kicked in. The nerves were gone so there was no pain.

"It's the knock-on effect that hits hard. My dad had invested a lot in the farm and that was to be my future as the only son. It was never going to happen. I thought about the simple things like would I be able to tie my laces, would I ever get a girlfriend?

"Accidents affect so many people so I'm using my experience to warn people to stop and take time to consider the dangers.

"I urge farmers to take five minutes, or whatever time it takes, to do the job at hand safely. It can make all the difference.

"Someone was looking after me that day and I'm here today in tribute to my mum Kathleen who passed away just last week."

Now married for 14 years to Elaine, William has three daughters and has been working in tractor sales for 25 years.

"There was no way I could go back on the farm," he said. "Those days were over before they even started. The whole family had to reassess, both career wise and financially.

"Over 100 people are injured on our farms every month in Northern Ireland, and if I've lost my arm so I can help bring that number down then it's worth it."

Also speaking was Ann Doherty, a mother of three from Kilkenny, who was attacked by a bull 10 years ago.

"Your whole life is affected - and your family's too," she said.

"The psychological impact is much harder to deal with than the physical impact. I wasn't able to talk about my accident for a long time but I am now able to share my story and I hope it helps encourage others to take more care on the farm.

"For the sake of a few minutes, put your phone down and concentrate on what you are doing."

Chairman of the Farm Safety Partnership, Harry Sinclair, said farming still has a poor safety record and there were too many accidents involving the main hazard areas of slurry, animals, falls and equipment.

"Taking a moment before starting a task may be the difference between losing life or limb," warned Mr Sinclair.

"We need to ask ourselves, is there anything else to do to make this work safer, such as getting help or using the right equipment?"

Online Editors