It was 2009, and the now 57-year-old was riding his quad bike to fetch the cows in for milking when the daily routine turned to near-tragedy.
“I was riding up a steep bank and just turned too sharply and dropped the quad bike on my left calf,” said the former dairy farmer, who sold his 200-head operation in the Western District earlier this year after a decade on the property.
David often worked alone. But that particular day, he had contractors baling hay and they phoned him to check in.
While David was driving the quad up an embankment, his mobile phone rang in his pocket and he tried to take the call without stopping.
“I can’t do two things at once,” said the father-of-two, whose daughters, Chloe and Alice, were in primary school at the time.
“As I answered the phone, I turned the handlebars too quickly and rolled the quad over. I couldn’t lift it off me. I was still on the phone to the contractor and he heard me say, ‘Help me’. There was no way I could lift it off myself. They came and lifted it off.”
Bruised and battered, David knew his lapse in judgment contributed to the accident and thought he had escaped unscathed. But 10 days later, he discovered the injury was severe.
“I was milking and I reached up to pull the feed lever,” he said. “I felt damp in my gumboots — and I thought water was coming in.
“I didn’t realise it was blood until it started coming up over the top of my boots.
“By reaching up, I must have ripped the already damaged skin in my left calf.”
The blunt force of the quad had severed a vein in his lower leg.
“Obviously I had done a lot more damage than I thought,” he said. “If it had been an artery I would have been dead.
“Luckily, the hospital was only 15 minutes away in Hamilton. It was quite traumatic, especially for my children, who came to hospital with me.”
LEARN FROM PAST
A supplier of Murray Goulburn for the past 4½ years, English-born David ran 400 milkers at his farm’s peak.
Back in 2008, David moved his family from northwest England to the 280ha property at Byaduk North, near Hamilton.
He bought the quad to help manage the farm, which was much larger than the 60ha property he owned in the UK, where he used to fetch the cows on foot with help from his dog, Benji.
David said he always tried to “do things properly”, but his accident drove home the importance of pre-planned on-farm safety.
When he expanded his herd and hired staff, David paid for all his employees to have their own fitted helmets and invested in rollover protection.
“I felt I wanted to be an employer of choice,” David said. “I wanted to feel if staff worked for me they knew I was taking their health and safety seriously. That is why their helmets were compulsory.”
But, like many farmers, David put his own safety last, behind that of his workers and family.
“It was only me working the farm initially, for the first year,” David said. “So it was only me who used it (the quad bike) so I never thought about the safety of it.
“I’ll be honest, I never wore a helmet even though I insisted my staff wore one.”
David said he believed many farmers operated with the same mindset.
“We don’t think about the job sometimes as we are under mental and physical pressure because we do a lot of these jobs ourselves,” he said. “I took a lot more cautious approach after my injuries.”
He said he wanted farmers to recognise they were capable of making mistakes.
“They should know their limitations and the limitations of the piece of machinery they have, whether it is a tractor or quad bike,” he said. “They should also be aware of doing things when they are tired and think about what they can live with on their own conscience.”
“It’s a dangerous job and we don’t wear safety gear most of the time because we don’t think about what could happen.”
• David Byrd is on the advisory board for the National Centre for Farmer Health in Hamilton
By: CAMILLE SMITH
Source: The Weekly Times