Farm accident survivors share their shocking stories

Farmers in Scotland who have had an accident have been sharing their personal stories of what happened to them as part of Farm Safety Week.

They want other farmers to learn from their experiences so they avoid making the same mistakes they did.

See also: Moving machinery and cattle are farming’s biggest killers 

The theme of this year’s Farm Safety Week is “don’t learn safety by accident”, so the farmers want other people to know about the impact the accident had on them and how their practices have changed as a result.


Tony Miller, Stewarton, Ayrshire

Tony Miller

After nearly losing his leg in an accident last year, farmer Tony Miller, a husband and dad of three, is keen that others don’t go through what he has.

The 48-year-old runs two farms, High Gallowberry and High Gameshill in partnership with his brother and mother. From 384ha, including seasonal lets, they finish 600 store cattle, 1,000 store lambs and have 400 breeding sheep.

A third-generation farmer, Mr Miller, of Stewarton, Ayrshire, explains the problems he was having with the bruiser on 14 March last year.

On this occasion, a bad batch of barley kept choking in the bruiser, and he did what he, his brother, father and others had done for the past 30 years and had stood over the power take-off (pto) shaft of the bruiser to try to unblock the stones in the barley.

Unfortunately for Tony, his waterproofs got caught and pulled in his trousers and his left leg.

“My waterproofs got caught in a bit of the guard, which was loose; it happened so quickly. Before I could look to see what had happened, my trouser leg had become tangled with my leg trapped.

“I managed to get my penknife and cut my boot, bottom half of my waterproofs and trouser leg off to try to release my leg.

“I had to keep pulling my leg and pushing with my free leg while trying to get to the button to turn the machine off, which was just out of reach.

“I finally managed to get myself free and turn off the machine. Thankfully I had my mobile phone – I called my brother, who was on our other farm at the time, for him to come and get me, and my wife, Ann, took me to Crosshouse Hospital in Kilmarnock.

“The pain was unreal. I’ve never felt anything like it. I remember seeing my leg when it came out of the bruiser – there was a hole in my calf about the diameter of a large mug and I could see the white of the bone. I feared I would lose my leg.

“I had received substantial friction burns below the knee from the waterproofs and was transferred to the burns unit in Glasgow Royal Infirmary.

“I remained in hospital for around three weeks in total.

“Because of the dirt and bacteria in my leg, I had to have a number of lengthy operations to ensure it was clean before I could have a muscle graft from my thigh to rebuild my calf.  In total I had about 300 stitches.

“I haven’t been fully fit since the accident. I’ve been to many physio appointments and found the winter months particularly challenging with the cold weather.  I think that is something that I will now always suffer with.

As a result of the accident, Mr Miller explains that he is now more careful.

He added: “There are not many people who come out of an accident like that unscathed; I was very lucky.

“It has definitely made me more cautious. I won’t do some of the jobs now that I did before, and I certainly won’t go near a pto shaft.

His advice to those who deal with machinery such as pto shafts and bruisers to avoid injuries like his is:

  • Make sure a pto shaft is totally covered;
  • Ensure a pto shaft is maintained on a regular basis;
  • If there is a blockage, stop the machine and then deal with it. Don’t go near it if it is still moving – it is not worth the risk.


Andrew Moir, Aberdeenshire

Andrew Moir

Following a near fatal fall from a ladder on his farm, Andrew Moir, an arable farmer from Aberdeenshire, spent eight days in hospital followed by a full year of rehabilitation.

Suffering from concussion, a broken nose and bone in his left arm, dislocated fingers and a shattered kneecap, had a huge effect on his business.

Andrew, a past chairman of NFU Scotland’s combinable crops committee, now realises this accident was entirely preventable.

He explained: “The accident came as a shock not only to me but to those who know me and the emphasis I place on safe working practice.

“The sorry tale began in a routine manner: the grain store was now empty and the cleaning process was a necessary chore to allow fresh grain to be stored and eliminate any beasties and bugs that can lurk in tiny crevices and contaminate fresh grain, which will be in store for about 11 months.

“Power points are, by necessity, above the ‘grain line’, which means something like 5m from a float-polished concrete floor, and I needed to plug the industrial hoover into one of these.

“Inexplicably I reached for the extendable ladder and placed it at quite a tight angle and, power flex in one hand, started my ascent.

“As I reached the top my brain suddenly kicked into gear, have I secured the ladder at the bottom? But it was too late, in a split second I was travelling at speed, with the ladder, to a very hard landing.

“Fortunately I did not lose consciousness and was only aware of copious blood flow from my nose, and a numb sensation sweeping my body.

“After a nasty accident with a cow before, I knew that I only had a few minutes before shock would set in and I could be in real trouble as I was working alone.

“I was able to get my mobile phone from my breast pocket and contact my son, Ian, who was home on leave from his work.

“In the few minutes Ian took to find me I realised I couldn’t stand up and the extent of my injuries – I was lucky to be alive.

“I was lucky and very fortunate to have had excellent care and repairs courtesy of NHS Grampian.

“It still leaves me cold to think about what happened and I have found this quite difficult to actually write as the memories come flooding back.”


Peter Stewart, Dunfermline

Peter Stewart

A fall from a potato box 10 years ago has made Peter Stewart of Urquhart Farm, Crossford, Dunfermline, safety conscious after he suffered a broken hip and leg and spent six weeks in a wheelchair.

In October 2003, Mr Stewart, a past vice-president of NFU Scotland, was in the middle of the potato harvest, and decided one evening to start placing the temperature probes in the top boxes in the cold store to let the computer start ventilating the store.

He did what many other potato growers do, and many who have confessed to Mr Stewart that they have done, and he climbed up the boxes without an aid.

He explains what happened next: “When I got right up to the top box, the spar came away in my hand, and I fell back down some 20ft on to the concrete floor.

“When I landed, I knew my right arm was in a mess and tried to get up but my right leg and right hip were broken, and I hit the deck.

“My phone was in my jeans’ pocket and trying to get a phone out of a right-hand pocket with the left hand was a challenge.

“The screen was smashed, but the quick-dial worked and I phoned my wife, who had a devil of a job trying to get an ambulance quickly, only having had a brief word from me.

“My right arm had a compound fracture, with eight pieces between the elbow and shoulder, and I was in theatre for 10 hours, and spent six weeks in a wheelchair.

“It took a fair while before I was fully fit. I was lucky I had great support from my wife and brother following the accident.

“We now use a cage for the forklift for all jobs requiring height, and I am well aware an accident like this to an employee could have been disastrous for the business.

“I am far more safety conscious, if somewhat late in life.”

Top safety tips if you have to work at height

  • Never walk on fragile materials – for example, roof lights or glass
  • Use proprietary access equipment or other measures when working at height
  • Take account of environmental conditions – for example, wind and rain
  • Make sure everyone knows the precautions to be followed
  • Roof ladders or crawling boards must span at least three purlins
  • Roof ladders must be securely placed. Do not rely on gutters, ridge caps or tiles for support.