These days farmer Ben Ryall is very vocal on the issue of farm safety and the potential long-term implications, in terms both of physical and mental health, of accidents.
In 2006, the pedigree Angus breeder and father-of-two suffered horrific injuries to his hand and arm after his coat became caught in farm machinery.
Ben was hard at work on his farm in Watergrasshill, Co Cork, when his coat became caught in the PTO shaft on a slurry tank.
“The PTO shaft cover was in place, but my coat became caught at the pump side of the vacuum tank, which was an old-fashioned cowl-type cover which left the underneath exposed.
“Nowadays no part of the vacuum pump is exposed because the cover is a completely different design. I got pulled in between the shaft and the drawbar. I could not fit between them and the tractor stalled.
“My left arm was dislocated,” recalls the 53-year-old. He managed to reach his mobile phone which he always kept in the breast pocket of his shirt.
He rang his brother, who worked a short distance away and who arrived within minutes accompanied by Ben’s nephew.
“I managed to extricate myself from the shaft with my right hand. I walked across the farmyard for about 50 metres at which point my brother and nephew arrived into the yard and I collapsed.”
The emergency services were called, and Ben was rushed to Cork University Hospital. He spent five hours in surgery, where surgeons carried out extensive repair work.
“I was very lucky, because the main nerve going down my arm was not severed in the accident. It was stretched and badly damaged.” Ben was lucky in another way — his good neighbours Noel O’Shea and Fred Buttimer immediately pitched in.
The next morning Noel sent an employee onto Ben’s farm to keep the operation going until the cattle went out into the fields in March, while Fred arrived at the farm every morning to help out.
“At the time my wife was working full-time and our children were aged just four and six,” Ben recalls. He spent two weeks in hospital, after which he had to return three days a week over a period of two years for intensive physiotherapy and occupational therapy. It took two years for him to regain limited use of his hand.
“For the first six months of that work my arm hung dead by my side, but very gradually the nervous system regenerated and I gained more and more movement in my arm and limited use of my hand.
“Nowadays I count myself lucky because most people who get caught in a PTO shaft don’t get to tell the story.” Ben has highlighted his accident at IFA meetings in a bid to increase awareness of how easily accidents like this can happen and the far-reaching implications of farm workplace injuries — because it didn’t end there.
The following December, Ben experienced a period of severe depression. “My doctors told me afterwards that they had been expecting something like that to happen,” he recalls, adding that his family GP prescribed medication which resolved the problem.
“However to me, the mental health aspect was nearly as bad as the physical injuries,” he says, adding that his wife Elaine was a “rock” and a “tremendous help” throughout his ordeal.
“I want to thank everyone for their support and help during that time,” he says, adding that to this day he still only has limited use of his hand.