Norfolk farmer speaks about his father’s tragic death to raise awareness during Farm Safety Week
- Credit: Ian Burt
A young Norfolk farmer has urged his industry to learn lessons from the tragic death of his father – a hard-working and safety-conscious agricultural haulier who died after being crushed by heavy straw bales.
Peter Fisher, 54, from Freethorpe, near Acle, was fatally injured by falling Hesston bales, each weighing more than 650kg, as they were being prepared for unloading from a lorry at a farm in Cranworth, near Thetford, on February 11.
The father-of-three was a self-employed driver and had been working in the haulage industry for 20 years.
His son Jack Fisher, who lives and works at a dairy farm in Shipdham near Dereham, said the accident had 'left a big part of the family missing' and should serve as a warning to all farm workers of the inherent dangers in their industry, regardless of their experience.
The 24-year-old herdsman agreed to speak about the family's trauma to raise awareness during Farm Safety Week, a national accident-reduction initiative aiming to lower the toll of death and injuries on British farms.
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'Dad was a very experienced and heavily qualified driver who had been doing this job for many years,' he said.
'He had dealt with Hesston bales all his life. You wouldn't find anyone else more safety conscious than him. He was a bit of a worrier. If there was a little bit of a 'lean', even if us boys thought it was alright, he would say: 'Don't go under there'. He would make sure it was right before he did anything.
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'As far as we're aware he went to work that morning and the back of the lorry was full. He had six bales in each pack, and three packs on the back (of the lorry).
'Four Hesston bales fell on top of him and they weigh anything between 650kg to 800kg each. He was not actually found until quarter to nine when the farmer's wife went to put her horses out and, as she came round the front of the lorry, she saw his luminous jacket under the bales. Sadly he was already gone.
'It makes me feel angry because we cannot understand as a family how it has happened. There's only one person who knows the story of what happened that morning and that's him.
'My message is that no matter how experienced you are, an accident can happen to anyone.'
Mr Fisher said almost 500 people attended his father's funeral, where donations raised more than £2,600 for the Farm Safety Foundation. He later agreed to become an ambassador for the charity, including recording a video of his experiences, in the hope that telling his story would force a culture change about farm safety – particularly among young farmers.
'At the time, I was a bit worried about it,' he said. 'Dad was not the kind of person who would have liked to have his picture in the paper. But if it saves just one person, it has served its purpose.
'Farming is far too dangerous, and it has got to change somehow. We wanted the message to hit home so people start thinking about 'what if it happened to my family'?
'You can't ever describe what you go through to lose someone like that until it happens to you. But I have got a constant reminder of it every day.
'We all take risks on farms. Whether we take that risk because of time or the weather, or because we are tired or too busy – that's when accidents happen. You have got to have your head on your shoulders and always think: 'Could I do this differently?''
He added: 'As a family, we have to carry on and hope that someone reading this will stop and think twice before taking a risk. That would be the best legacy for Dad.'
CHARITY'S SAFETY MESSAGE
Stephanie Berkeley of the Farm Safety Foundation, the charity behind Farm Safety Week, said agriculture carries an above-average risk of accidents from falling objects, with the transport and stacking of large hay bales resulting in numerous injuries and deaths in recent years.
'Most accidents of this type happen either because the work is not properly planned, the risks are not recognised, proper precautions are not taken, or the equipment used is either defective, not appropriate, or used incorrectly,' she said. 'It is human nature to think 'it won't happen to me,' but unfortunately it can, especially if we continue to take risks, whether major or minor.
'Taking preventative, proactive measures is one of the best things we can do for our farm and workers. Most preventative practices are common sense.
'Tragically, most accidents are caused by simple factors such as habit, haste, fatigue, and improperly maintained machinery. This week, we hope that by hearing from families like the Fisher family about their experiences, we can persuade farmers of all ages that this week, and every week, farm safety is a lifestyle, not a slogan.'
New figures published by the Health and Safety Executive have revealed the causes of the 30 deaths recorded on farms in 2016/17.
• 9 (30%) Transport (overturning vehicles or struck/hit by moving vehicle).
• 6 (20%) Trapped by something collapsing (including vehicles supported by lifting equipment and straw bales).
• 5 (17%) Struck by moving, falling or flying objects.
• 3 (10%) Contact with electricity or an electrical discharge.
• 2 (7%) Fell from a height.
• 2 (7%) Injured by an animal (cattle).
• 1 (3%) Contact with moving machinery.
• 1 (3%) Asphyxiation (in a grain store).
• 1 (3%) Struck against something fixed or stationary (in this case, a mini-digger and door frame).
Of the 30 deaths, 20 people were self employed, seven were employed, and three were members of the public, including a three-year-old child.
For more information on Farm Safety Week Follow @yellowwelliesUK on Twitter or search using the hashtag #FarmSafetyWeek.