When second generation Worcestershire dairy farmer Chris Heath suffered a serious farm accident seven months ago, his world was turned upside down.
Chris suffered life-threatening injuries when he was propelled from the tractor he was driving and fell in its pathway as it ran over him. Here, he talks about the accident and how it has affected him and his family.
It was a Sunday afternoon like any other. Chris Heath was working – and in a hurry to finish emptying dirty water out of a lagoon with a vacuum tanker attached to a tractor. He’d already done several loads when he accidentally hit the ‘paddle’ – the clutch-free, forward-moving, reverse stick – and found himself propelled head first, clean out of the tractor. Still moving backwards, the hundred horsepower tractor (with a front-end loader and sheer grab also attached) ran straight over him.
It was no longer a Sunday afternoon like any other.
Chris suffered life-threatening injuries that included a pelvis fractured in four places, three displaced vertebrae, a dislocated shoulder, six broken ribs and serious internal crush injuries to his bowel. That same evening, after being airlifted to Coventry Hospital, the father-of-two was in theatre having part of his bowel removed. He was put into an induced coma and it was more than three weeks before he came around.
The accident happened in January 2019 but within six months Chris was walking around the farm again and taking nothing more than Paracetamol. He’s amazed doctors, family and friends with his progress, but he knows he’s been lucky. He said: “I could have died. I could have been in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. I still have quite a few issues, but I know things could have been much worse.”
He admits that the accident happened because he ‘did not have his head in gear’ and was trying to do things too fast. He said: “I’d had lots of near misses before but never had a bad accident. Once, I narrowly escaped being crushed by a bull. Another time I turned over a tractor doing a silage pit and just walked away and carried on working. Not this time.”
The accident has forced Chris to rethink lots of things including his own attitudes to farm safety. Now, when driving the tractor, he always makes sure he puts the handbrake on when he stops and puts the manual gearbox into neutral.
The family contacted RABI who provided an initial grant towards the costs of relief farm staff. Because of the large vet bills and delays in benefit claims, RABI provided a secondary grant in June. The family subsequently sent RABI a ‘thank you’ card which read: “When an accident like this happens I don’t think you are ever prepared. Our biggest concern was the welfare of the stock, especially the dairy cows. Finding people to help was one thing – paying them was another…”
It added: “I don’t’ know what we would do without you.”