28 July 2022
When Jean Gohery, an experienced nurse, was summoned outside by her distressed 10 year-old son, she found her husband Peter Gohery motionless on the floor of their farmyard in County Galway. Lying close to his tractor, she could see that one leg was completely severed and his other foot very nearly severed. Jean assumed Peter was dead or close to it. Fortunately for this Irish farming family, Peter survived, although his injuries that fateful day in 2009 were life-changing.
Every year, farmers lose lives and limbs in accidents that could have been preventable. A high proportion involve machinery and tractors and of these, many are connected with a PTO (Power Take-Off) or PTO drive shaft. If this part of the tractor is always covered with an appropriately designed and maintained guard, the risk of injury or death can be greatly reduced.
Peter made a heartfelt plea to visitors who recently attended his farm safety presentation at the Farming Connect Innovation & Diversification Wales event at Llanelwedd.
“Stop, think and take time to implement safe working practices on your farm at all times.
“It’s better to lose a minute of your life than lose your life in a minute.”
His searingly honest presentation to a packed audience focused on the farm accident which changed not only his own life irrevocably but the lives of his wife and four children too. With a remarkably optimistic disposition despite his near-fatal accident, Peter spoke movingly about what it meant at the age of just 42, to spend months of his life in hospital, undergoing hours of extensive operations and physiotherapy as he began his slow road to recovery. Nine months after the accident, he was managing to get about in a wheelchair before eventually being fitted with a prosthetic leg.
By today Peter is able to walk, but suffers with pain when standing or walking for any period of time and he struggles with driving, navigating slopes and soft or uneven ground. His ‘good’ leg stills swells up massively and was only saved thanks to skin grafts by a brilliant medical team who transplanted muscle and tissue from his thigh to help re-attach the foot.
That fateful autumn morning in 2009 Peter had spent the day preparing the farm’s suckler calves for weaning. He was wearing his usual farm overalls and steel toe-capped safety wellingtons – his sensible ‘good practice’ routine when working with livestock. However, back at the house for lunch, his knee kept poking out through a gaping hole in the waterproof part of the overalls so he decided to find some scissors and cut off the offending fabric. He failed to notice the long shred of torn material still hanging down. Later that evening Peter decided to check out the farm’s diet feeder in readiness for the coming season.
"I started it up but heard a knock at the back of the machine, so I decided to leave the tractor ticking over – of course I should have practiced ‘safe stop’ and turned off the engine – but I just quickly hopped down to investigate what was causing the problem.
“I could see two hydraulic lines that looked to be in the reverse order, so I just caught them with one hand and swapped them over easily.”
But as Peter stepped back, he found that the long shred of fabric still hanging from his overalls had become entangled in the power shaft, which had no guard or cover on it. The fabric quickly wrapped around the shaft and Peter’s one leg was completely severed. As the other leg also got caught up in the torque, he was thrown to the ground, his right arm smashing into the tractor, breaking two more bones.
" It wasn't until I was lying on the ground and trying to pull myself away from the machine that I realised my arm was broken, but I saw that I had lost my leg and that my other foot was hanging off.”
Jean rushed to Peter’s assistance and her nursing background saved his life as she applied makeshift tourniquets to stem the bleeding, while they waited for the air ambulance that took him to University Hospital Dublin.
Peter appreciates he’s lucky to be alive and fortunately both he and his son, who is now 23, are both positive mentally all these years later.
After the accident, neighbours, friends and family stepped in to help with the day-to-day running of the farm but having realised that he could never return to his old way of life, he sold the livestock and rented out the farmland. With his wife and young family to live for, Peter decided to return to college where he obtained a BSc predominantly focused on Health & Safety. For over a decade, he has devoted his life to being a farm safety adviser, delivering behavioural-based safety talks and lectures to farmers throughout the UK and America.
“It’s ironic to think you can get a PTO guard fitted for around £120, but a prosthetic limb, which usually has to be replaced every few years, costs more than £40,000.
“Don’t let an accident like I had happen to you or a member of your family.
“Find out what safety procedures you need to put in place to make your farm a safe place to work.”
Always practice ‘Safe Stop’ when you leave the cab of any tractor – it could mean the difference between life and death - handbrake on, gears in neutral, engine off, key out!
For a step-by-step guide to driving tractors safely click here.