Farm Ireland

Friday 27 April 2018

The terrible price we pay for cutting corners

It took a neighbour's death to make me realise the importance of following safety regulations to the letter
It took a neighbour's death to make me realise the importance of following safety regulations to the letter
Joe Barry

Joe Barry

Farmers are notorious for ignoring issues relating to their general physical wellbeing.

There might have been some excuse for this forty or fifty years ago when most of us were ignorant of basic health care and enthusiastically wrecked our backs lifting heavy bags of wheat or fertiliser and regularly wrestling with unruly livestock. I think we secretly saw this as some form of macho showing off but many of us are now paying the price for our carelessness.

It used to be thought that you weren't "manly" if you couldn't compete in shows of strength, whether it was loading sacks of corn, pitching bales or worse, lifting huge rocks just to demonstrate our muscle power. This was of course a demonstration of sheer idiocy but then we paid the price for our behaviour in later life with aching backs, torn muscles and severed tendons.

Apart from the necessity of having appropriate training for strenuous farm tasks and for operating machinery, there are serious insurance issues if we ignore the current health and safety regulations.

From having scorned them in my early days, I am now aware of the absolute importance of following them to the letter.

I can even recall ridiculing the regulations regarding chainsaw use and would frequently cut timber without any protective gear, alone and without anyone even within earshot.

I only fully realised the folly of this after a neighbour died tragically when a fallen tree he was cutting slipped and crushed him. Around that time I also received a gash in my leg when cutting side branches off a tree trunk.


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It wasn't deep but took ages to heal and I then learnt that chainsaw cuts are almost impossible to stitch because of the manner in which such saws gouge lumps out of your flesh rather than making a clean cut.

Fortunately, these days my son is a stickler for following the guidelines and won't even start a saw without wearing the appropriate protection. No one now working on our farm ever uses a saw without being accompanied by a helper and that includes me. He has also placed a large sign in our yard stating "No PPE (personal protective equipment) No Job" and insists on correct clothing being worn, even on the hottest of days.

My memories of the equipment I used years ago and the risks I took are the stuff of nightmares.

Uncovered PTO shafts must rank high on the list as do crazy practices such as unblocking combines at night while the engine was running.

No one in their right mind would enter a cage with an angry lion but how many of us have gone in to pens that contained a freshly calved heifer.

Again I can list several close shaves where I just managed to escape and one particularly close call with a bullock suffering from meningitis that had me pinned to a gate. Only for the gate bursting open, I doubt I would still be around to write this.

Few would travel on a motorbike or exercise a horse without proper head protection but both I and others I know of have been seriously negligent by driving a quad without a safety helmet.

We still often see farmers tearing across rough and rocky terrain on quads without protective head gear of any sort. This is only asking for trouble.

Our physical wellbeing is of paramount importance but we also must remember to take care of our mental health and seek professional help if needed.

When we are young and fit we rarely think about age or illness but when the body starts to creak and groan, we realise it cannot be replaced. Check out and list all the potential dangers that can lie unnoticed around the farm. You just might be surprised.

As the comedian Bob Hope famously said when asked "who would want to live to be 100" he replied "anyone who is 99".

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