Tuesday, 10 May 2016 11:21

Injured farmer's safety warning

Written by  Cameron Wilson
Colin Gray pictured with daughter Robyn Mitchard. Colin Gray pictured with daughter Robyn Mitchard.

COLIN Gray is in the kitchen of his Gippsland home when we meet, sitting in the motorised wheelchair he’s been confined to since a farm accident nearly five years ago.

He’s dressed in jeans, a polar fleece and an open neck shirt revealing the tracheostomy tube in his neck.

He’s wearing a cap with the logo of a local pasture seed company.

“Do you want to shake hands, I can still shake hands,” he says.

Colin is paralysed from the chest down.

It's taken him three years of daily exercises and regular therapy to develop the grip in his right hand.

“The biggest thing about my accident was losing my finger use,” he says.

“When you look at farming you use your fingers every day, and I lost all that.”

He can now pick up a pen, do the farm bookwork and, significantly, he has the strength to drive his modified car.

With ingenuity and determination he’s also found ways to get through some basic daily tasks.

“For shaving myself I have a bit of milk tubing on the handle and I worked out a way of applying the shaving cream," he says.

“For feeding myself I have the same thing, a spoon with a bit of milk tubing on it. But don’t get me wrong, I still need help.”

The kitchen window looks out over the paddocks where his Dad taught him to farm.

It’s the same Warragul property where he milked cows for 45 years, and the place where he and his wife Jenny raised their two kids.

Prior to the accident, at Jenny’s insistence, the couple were preparing for semi-retirement.
There were plans to travel Australia with a camper trailer, picking up contract work along the way.

The share-farming agreement they had entered into would see Jenny and Colin free to spend more time away from the 220-hectare property and its 275-head milking herd.

Colin doesn’t go into detail about the accident in late September 2011 that dramatically changed those plans.

He reveals that it happened during a quiet time on the farm.

Calving and joining was done and Colin was turning his mind to his daughter Robyn’s imminent wedding.

He also reveals the accident involved a tractor and machinery.

“I don’t actually know what happened exactly,” he says.

“I’ve looked at the situation about 20,000 times and to this day I still can’t tell you exactly what happened.”

Colin was left laying on his back for almost five hours after the accident, the C5/6 spinal injury meaning he was unable to answer the phone ringing in his pocket with calls from friends and family, worried after he’d failed to come home for lunch.

Later that afternoon Jenny discovered her husband.

He was taken by helicopter to Melbourne, hypothermic, severely injured and close to death.

“I said to my brother, ’I’m stuffed’ as they loaded me in the chopper,” Colin says.

Three separate stints in intensive care followed, then 16 months of rehabilitation in hospital.

It was a further 12 months before the couple’s home was modified so they could return.

The emotional and mental recovery took even longer.

“Jenny made me a bit of a diary and it took me two years before I could read it,” Colin says.

"There are cards that I’ve never opened, it’s just one of those things. It took me three years emotionally and psychologically to accept it.”

For Jenny these are the consequences farmers don’t see, the true costs of a farm accident.

“I think the ordinary people, the ordinary farmer, they don’t understand the implications of a serious accident,” Jenny says.

“In the morning you just can’t get up and get out of bed, it just doesn’t happen that quick.

"His morning care is about three hours from when he gets up to when he’s sitting in the chair.

“The requirements of each day before you even look at the farm are quite taxing.”

The financial cost is taxing too.

The home modifications, the new bed and hoist, the car equipped for a wheelchair, plus the host of machinery and technology now needed to keep Colin alive and comfortable in his home cost about $500 000. Around-the-clock care is $300 000 a year.

Those costs are partly covered by insurance and the TAC, a critical financial contribution that is only available because Colin’s tractor had current registration and insurance.

“I think people need to understand the implications of not spending $70 a year on motorbike registration or $80 a year in tractor registration,” Colin says.

Looking back, Jenny and Colin agree they could have been more diligent with farm safety.

Not that they were careless. The ATVs were fitted with roll over bars, equipment was well maintained and there were clear rules to keep visitors and workers safe.

They were experienced, innovative and successful farmers.

“To say I was doing anything stupid, well I wasn’t. I’d just say I was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Colin says.

“I think farmers walk around with their heads in the clouds. They are naive to the implications, the cost and the consequence of an accident."

More like this

Quads out for safety

A Murray Valley dairy farm which has seven full-time employees has deliberately moved away from using quad bikes because of their dangerous history.

ACCC urges caution on quad bikes after rise in fatalities

THE Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is urging the community to undertand the risk of quad bikes after a 30 per cent increase in fatalities this year - many of them children.

To prevent quad bike accidents this summer, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is warning the community to be fully prepared, wear protective gear and ride safe.

“Tragically, 20 Australians have died this year from quad bike accidents, including a six-year-old, a seven-year-old and a 15-year-old. In 2014, there were 15 deaths – sadly, a 30 per cent increase in fatalities this year,” ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard said.

“Alarmingly, January is the most common month for quad bike deaths among children in Australia. January also has twice the injury rate of other months.”

“Many consumers expect that quad bikes can safely go on all kinds of terrain and surfaces. Unfortunately, this isn’t true – riding on steep slopes, rough terrain and even hard, flat surfaces (such as tarmac and asphalt) may cause the quad bike to become unstable and very dangerous,” Ms Rickard said.

There have been more than 210 deaths associated with quad bikes in Australia since 2001; with children involved in about a third of emergency department presentations involving quad bike accidents during recreational activity.

“A large proportion of quad bike-related deaths during recreational activity have involved the quad bike tipping or rolling over. In cases involving children, the quad bike had tipped or rolled over in almost 75 per cent of incidents,” Ms Rickard said.

“Before getting on a quad bike, you must consider the bike’s condition, how much training you’ve had and whether you’re wearing enough protective gear. Children should never ride quad bikes intended for adults, either as drivers or passengers. Children must be supervised at all times near quad bikes.”

Prepare safe

  • Ensure you are properly trained before you ride a quad bike.
  • Maintain the bike so it is in safe condition.
  • Read the operator manual and observe the manufacturer's safety warnings and recommended use of the vehicle.
  • Before you leave for a quad bike ride, always tell someone where you plan to go and when you expect to return.

Wear safe

  • Always wear a helmet.
  • Wear protective clothing and gear such as goggles, long sleeves, long pants, boots and gloves/hand protection.

Ride safe

  • Never let children ride quad bikes that are meant for adults – even as passengers.
  • Do not carry any passengers on quad bikes that are meant for one person.
  • Quad bikes are not all-terrain vehicles so they cannot go safely on all types of terrain. Avoid riding on rough terrain or steep slopes.
  • Ride on familiar tracks and beware of obstacles.
  • Never ride under the influence of alcohol/drugs.
  • Ensure children are supervised at all times near any quad bike activity.
  • Always carry a mobile phone or radio device so you can contact help in case of an emergency.

Further information on quad bike safety is available on the Product Safety Australia website.


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