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 40 years and the same accidents are still happening and claiming the lives and limbs of too many of our 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. Despite fatalities in Northern Ireland’s agriculture sector decreasing by 50% since the horrendous years of 2011 and 2012, where there were 12 fatalities each year, the sector remains a key focus of the Northern Ireland Farm Safety Partnership.
While HSENI has confidence in the number of fatal injuries recorded, it is generally recognised that there is a significant degree of under-reporting of incidents in other categories, particularly in agriculture where the vast majority of workers are self-employed.
Worryingly, statistics from a 2015 survey of Northern Ireland farmers suggests that there could be as many as 100 incidents per month on farms which require hospital treatment. At this level, it is sadly unsurprising that some of the more serious incidents can result in life changing injury or death.
For 2016/17 key trends in work-related injuries are as follows:
●- 16 fatalities in all industries compared to 12 in the previous year
●- major injuries in all industries down 13% on last year and the lowest in the last five years; and
●- reported injuries in all industries down by 12% on last year
Chairman of the Farm Safety Partnership, Keith Morrison, said: “Farming and food production play a crucial role in the life and economy of Northern Ireland. But every year we have to reluctantly report that agriculture has the poorest safety record of any occupation here.
“At the Balmoral Show, we launched a new safety advert focusing on the ‘A – Animals’ aspect of our Stop and Think SAFE message. The advert carries the message ‘Plan an escape route and never turn your back on a cow around calving’ and highlights the issue of working with animals, particularly calving and the risks involved.
“All too often accidents happen on our farms which are preventable, so we want to continue to raise awareness for everyone working on, or visiting, a working farm. HSENI is committed to work with our partners on the NI Farm Safety Partnership on initiatives like Farm Safety Week to inform their activities and 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 Northern Ireland’s 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, our 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, 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 visit www.yellowwellies.org or follow @yellowwelliesUK on Twitter/Facebook using the hashtag #FarmSafetyWeek