21 July 1995

A catastrophe gives cause to rethink policy

In this months "Contractors comment" Andrew Faulkner returns to Cumbria where our northern contractor, Michael Scott, has just been through three months hed rather forget

WHEN a big contracting business loses a key member of staff for any length of time, it is, at worst, a major inconvenience. For a one-man operation, like Michael Scotts, it can be the fatal blow.

Mr Scott suffered such a catastrophe on Apr 10 at 9pm. While parking up his Frazier Agribuggy for the night, the vehicles main radiator hose split and shot steaming coolant over the back of his legs.

The result? – severe scalding, 11 days in Carlisle hospital and a total of 25 days off work. With no other staff to turn to, business turnover slumped to zero; income support and a £280 pay-out from an accident insurance policy were his only means of paying the familys domestic bills.

"It couldnt have happened at a worse time, just when work was picking up," Mr Scott explains.

"The wet/cold spring meant the season was late, so I was just getting into my busy time – applying the first batch of fertiliser to grassland."

Mr Scotts one-man contracting business is based at Kirkoswald, near Penrith, from where he runs a 12-year-old Frazier Agribuggy applying fertiliser and sprays to grassland and cereals. He concedes that running older, lower cost equipment probably saved his business.

"If Id had hefty hire purchase payments to make during the time I was in hospital, the accident could have finished the business off all together.

"Although there was no income during that month, I was lucky. Some of my customers managed to do their own work and I arranged for other contractors to do the rest. I dont think Ive lost any regular customers as a result."

But this years bad news didnt end with the accident. Three weeks after its plumbing had been renewed, Mr Scotts Agribuggy suffered a stuck exhaust valve in its retro-fit Daihatsu 2.5-litre engine.

Replacing it with a secondhand Daihatsu unit would have cost about £1000, so Mr Scott opted for a less conventional power source: A Perkins TE20 diesel from a "little grey Fergie", matched to a four-speed/two range Land Rover gearbox. Total bill was £250 and, after another two weeks in the workshop, the Buggi was back on the road.

"The Buggi has gone surprisingly well since fitting the new engine," Mr Scott says.

"It may be down on power, but the TE20 makes up for this with its more robust build. Lower gearing in the Land Rover box also allows me to work at a more comfortable 5.5mph, whereas the higher geared Daihatsu unit had to rev to 6.5mph to get 540rpm at the pto."

Although the Buggi is now running again, the two recent breakdowns have made Mr Scott re-consider his machinery policy. His dilemma: Whether to carry on running older, low cost equipment for specialist work over a limited area, and use the rest of his time to labour for other contractors; or to invest in a newer multi-purpose machine which would need to work 12 months of the year.

Decision soon

A demount machine capable of slurry spreading as well as spraying and fertiliser application could be an option. He will make his decision soon.

So what has Mr Scott learnt over the past eventful, and at times excruciatingly painful three months?

"The importance of adequate accident insurance, particularly for one-man operations like mine. I must have lost about £2500 of business in recent months, for which I should have had better cover. I wont make the same mistake again."

Power for Mr Scotts Agribuggy is now sourced from a Perkins TE20 diesel – a grey Fergie engine. A Land Rover gear box has also been fitted.

Michael Scott: "Its been a tough three months – £2500 lost business."