James Chapman MBE drew a crowd to the farm safety zone at Lamma this week, where he spoke candidly about the loss of his left arm in a serious machinery accident, and how it inspired him to try and help other farmers.
It was a cold Friday in 2005 when James went to help at a friend’s farm near Rugby. Having grown up on the family farm in Warwickshire and later set up his own contracting business, there was never any doubt that farming was the job for him.
On the day of his accident, he had faced a number of delays due to machinery problems and was under pressure to get the job done and make up for lost time. While he was checking some equipment that appeared to be malfunctioning, part of his clothing got caught in the PTO shaft and he was flung over the top of the tractor, tearing off his left arm.
Following the accident, James’s three-year relationship ended and his contracting business tailed off. Speaking to the crowd at Lamma about the impact on his mental health, he said he considered ending his life but joked that laziness kept him on the sofa and his friends helped drag him back to the pub and normal life.
The accident prompted him to try and improve safety in the industry and prevent other farmers suffering injuries or fatalities. He was awarded an MBE for services to farm safety in 2012.
A Nuffield scholarship took him to the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand to find out more about global farm safety, but he says there is no one country that is doing better than the UK. As a result of his work, he believes the answer is not more legislation, but a change in culture.
Farmers often relish, but also normalise the risks associated with the job, he said.
“We are proud of our near misses and even boast about them. We risk our lives every day to provide food and we need to stop glorifying the risks and the dangers, praising those farmers who do a good job when it comes to farm safety.”
Farming comes with multiple pressures – not least time, finance and weather – which can result in corners being cut. While farmers possess multiple skills and carry out very varied tasks on-farm – rather than getting in specialist help – formal health and safety training often does not form part of the picture.
Figures from the Health and Safety Executive show 39 people were killed as a result of farming and agriculture-related activities in 2018/19. Out of the main industrial sectors, agriculture has the highest rate of fatal injuries among workers and the rate of fatalities is 18 times higher than the average across all industries.
James says: “Safety isn’t about paperwork or legislation; it’s about going out and doing the job you love doing and being able to come home safe afterwards.”
However, James noted the large number of farmers present at his talk and said it is a sign of the times changing, as safety discussions would not have drawn a crowd 10 years ago.
Image © Farm Safety Foundation