Farm accidents can happen to anyone, so we must always be on our guard

Farm accidents can happen to anyone, so we must always be on our guard
Norma and Brian Rohan, founders of Embrace FARM, which supports bereaved farm families.

Catherine Collins of Embrace FARM reminds us that farm accidents can happen to anyone

‘It’s a club I never thought I would be part of’ are words we hear very frequently in Embrace FARM. The club is the one where a person has had their world turned upside down as a result of a farm accident. Embrace FARM supports all those affected by farm accidents. The upside-down situations people find themselves in are when they have lost a loved one fatally in a farm accident or they have incurred serious injuries which have left life changing affects to how they live now.

Embrace FARM supports bereaved farm families going through the journey of grief and they support farm accident survivors. Though there is no formal recording of farm incidents themselves, from previous Teagasc research, approximately 2000-2500 farm accidents happen each year resulting in minor and major injuries to farmers and/or people on farms. The fatality statistics collated each year by the Health and Safety Authority highlight that farming is the most dangerous occupation in Ireland.

Embrace FARM was founded in 2014 by Brian and Norma Rohan of Shanahoe, Co. Laois, when Brian tragically lost his father Liam in a farm accident on their family farm in 2012. They felt there was no service dedicated to farm families to remember lives lost and from that in 2014 they held the first remembrance service to commemorate these souls.

They were inundated with people emailing and phoning them wishing for their loved one’s name to be added to the roll call of names that is read each year at the service. The service is held on the last Sunday of June annually since then. Families at all stages of grief attend the Church of the Most Holy Rosary in Abbeyleix on this Sunday afternoon. The ecumenical service each year has a different theme to integrate the congregation to its meaning. The most poignant year many recalls so far was when farm families affected were asked to bring some earth from their farms. This was placed in the grounds of the church in Abbeyleix as part of a tree planting ceremony to remember the lives lost and celebrate their memories. In addition to the remembrance service, Embrace FARM facilitates residential counselling weekends for spouses who have lost their husband or partner in a farm accident and for families who have lost a child or sibling.

Farm accident survivors have their story to tell. Embrace FARM has an active farm accident survivor support group facilitated every few weeks by counsellor Gina Dowd of Counselling West. The group all share the same sentiment in that they have the comfort and consolation that they know they are not alone in what they have experienced to change their lives so drastically. Injuries people suffer can be apparent such as amputated legs and arms, brain, and spinal injuries. The lesser seen injuries also come from an accident such as the mental and emotional trauma a person suffers afterwards. These are all discussed in the group.

Ann Doherty, survivor of a farm accident that has had a serious impact upon her life.
Ann Doherty, survivor of a farm accident that has had a serious impact upon her life.

Ann Doherty is part of the farm accident survivor support group. Ann hails from Kilkenny and one day on a drive home with her three children her life changed dramatically. They came across cows blocking the narrow country lane close to their home.

Ann stopped her car, instructed for her three daughters to stay inside, the girls aged just 4, 6 and 8 at the time. She put on her hazard lights to warn any oncoming traffic and she phoned her husband Liam who farms on their family farm just next door to where the livestock were on the road. Liam arrived on the scene to help put the animals back in the field.

“Liam turned back the animals; there was a corner that I couldn’t quite see them, so I had to wait for him to tell me when I could open the gate,” Ann Doherty explained.

“I remember opening the twine, holding the gate, and going a few steps into the field. I couldn’t see that there was an animal; I thought they had all come out onto the road through the gap.”

“I kind of felt and heard the hooves coming for me more than anything else. He came for me, face on. He struck me in the chest and lifted me up in the air and I landed back down on the ground,” she explained.

“I knew I was in trouble. I was hurt, I was so conscious of the children being there, I said I have to get back out of here because if he gets a second pop at me, that could be it.”

The bull “took a few steps back” and Ann crawled out onto the road on her hands and knees. At this stage, the heifers were returning to the field, which distracted the bull.

“Ann was on the ground when I arrived. I heard her say 'The bull got me' as the cattle were going in the gate. The bull followed the heifers on a small distance, but he was still hanging around,” Liam explained.

“I didn’t go straight to the hospital because it was going on the evening; I didn’t want to be upsetting them [her children].”

Ann went to hospital the following day and discovered she had a fractured sternum, three cracked ribs and a cracked thumb. It is the years following the bull attack that Ann has suffered the most. She has endured ruptured discs in her lower back leaving her in severe pain and has also been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS).

“I have pain that intensifies when you don't expect it to and spasms tie me to the bed when I don't want to, when I have to sleep downstairs because I can't manage the blasted stairs, physical pain is really a bummer, but this mental pain is shite, you fight with your thoughts, my head is fit to explode with trying to reason with myself each day, it's a busy place my head, but now I'm much more positive and want to stay in a good place. I have all the meds each day and appointments in hospitals and procedures and surgeries to still to face," Ann explains.

The emotional and mental impact of the accident has also left a profound effect on Ann.

Marie Scanlon, Glanbia safety officer, Ann Doherty farm accident survivor, Kieran O’Connor, Glanbia, and Brian Rohan of Embrace Farm at a farm safety forum at the National Ploughing Championships. Picture: Dan Linehan
Marie Scanlon, Glanbia safety officer, Ann Doherty farm accident survivor, Kieran O’Connor, Glanbia, and Brian Rohan of Embrace Farm at a farm safety forum at the National Ploughing Championships. Picture: Dan Linehan

“How easy it would be to take the black road and see it through, I have been to the river, I've planned ways to finish my pain. But then a tiny part of me tells me that it will only make my loved one’s pain explode even more if I am successful with my intentions, so I pull back from the edge, this time…”

Ann’s story highlights how quickly life can change. Embrace FARM is here to support people after a farm accident who have been seriously affected. See www.embracefarm.com for more information.

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