James-ArmstrongJames Armstrong

A young farmer who lost his foot in a farm accident involving a quad bike has warned the consequences go far beyond physical pain and suffering.

Farmers are being urged to think more about how they prevent transport-related accidents as part of the UK and Ireland’s annual Farm Safety Week.

Tractors and moving vehicles have claimed the lives of 20 farmworkers over the past five years and represent one of the biggest dangers on the farm.

See also: Farm Safety Week seeks to highlight machinery dangers

After losing his foot in 2008, farm safety ambassador Mark Mather from Haugh Head, near Wooler, Northumberland, is keen to highlight the harsh reality of the consequences of a farm accident.

Shotgun blast

Mr Mather was 24 when he suffered a shotgun blast to the leg while working on the 1,000ha mixed arable and livestock farm.

He was ploughing a field in readiness for a kale crop when he noticed that the barley crop in the next field was being plundered by crows.

Mr Mather returned to the house in the early evening, collecting his shotgun before heading straight out again on a quad bike which had a twitching device of decoy birds on its front rack to attract crows so they could be shot.

He was carrying the double-barrelled shotgun across his lap. It was loaded, but the safety catch was on.

He drove a quarter-of-a-mile from the farm to the first field, where he took a couple of shots, but then decided to move on to the next field.

As he turned into the field, the battery powering the front-mounted twitcher moved slightly and he leaned forward to secure it.

As a result, the vehicle veered onto a slight bank and overturned, hitting the butt of the shotgun which went off, firing both barrels into his right leg.

Mr Mathers was left conscious, in great pain and losing a lot of blood, but he couldn’t get up and couldn’t call for help because the battery in his mobile phone was flat.

Luckily his father received a message to say that some sheep had escaped and the search for the sheep led him to where Mr Mather was lying beneath the quad.

After being airlifted to hospital where surgeons operated throughout the night they were forced to amputate the leg at the thigh to save his life.

He then endured four or five further operations during the following weeks.

Mr Mather says the effect on his life and the farm business has been immense. He was unable to work for more than a year and on his return to work still suffered pain and weakness.

The accident also put the family and the farm under major financial strain, although neighbours were very good and came in to do the silage. 

“My father visited me in hospital every day and so his work time was lost,” said Mr Mather.

“He had to hire in extra help during the considerable length of time I was unable to work. Because my injury is so severe it means there are certain aspects of the work I can no longer do.”

Stabbed in the leg

Another young farmer who learned the hard way about the dangers of farm vehicles is James Armstrong from Dumfriesshire.

Mr Armstrong’s split-second decision to leap down from the tractor, rather than climb down, has had consequences for him for the past decade.

Mark Mather

Mark Mather

Aged just 16, and having recently passed his tractor licence test, he leapt from the tractor, falling on one of the link arms and stabbing himself in the back of the leg.

He spent five days in hospital and it took a few weeks to be able to sit down. For the next few months he had to find work off farm as he was unable to drive tractors or perform most day-to-day tasks.

Since 2006, Mr Armstrong, who is now 27, has been forced to undergo two operations, the most recent one just last year.

“As a young lad I wanted to show off that I had my tractor licence.  If I had climbed down, I would likely  have avoided injury,” he says.


Farm Safety Week logoThis week, Farmers Weekly is highlighting the experiences of  farmers who have suffered serious injuries at work to shed light on the importance of farm safety. Their stories will be highlighted online using the Twitter hashtag #FarmSafetyWeek