The Rise and Falls of Farm Safety – Day 3 Farm Safety Week

Strathaven dairy farmer tells of the consequences of falling from a shed roof

Contrary to the popular image of fresh air and peaceful surroundings, a farm is not a hazard-free work setting. Every year, thousands of agricultural workers are injured and too many die in farming or crofting accidents. In fact, despite the promising news that there is some behavioural change occurring in the industry, agriculture continues to have the poorest safety record of any occupation in the UK.

Farming carries an above-average risk of falling accidents. Farming, forestry and horticulture employ about one per cent of the national workforce but the risk of falling from heights or being struck by a falling object account for nearly 30 per cent of all farming fatalities, which only demonstrates that ‘Falls’ must remain high on the list of farming risks to be managed.


A slip of judgement when trying to fix a shed roof during storm damage could have had fatal consequences for Strathaven dairy farmer Matthew Brown.

On the afternoon of 9 January 2015, Matthew and his, then, 18-year-old son were patching up damage to the roof on their dairy farm at Whitecraigs, Glassford near Strathaven. A fifth generation farmer, Matt milks 90 cows on the 160 acre farm and farms 90 acres of cereals with his wife Wilma, three daughters and son.
Normally Matt would have used a loader bucket, adapted to ensure safe working at heights, however, on this occasion, he had been in such a hurry to get the job done and was raised in an ordinary loader bucket when he was hit by purlin. This caused him to fall 7ft to the concrete below, leaving him with two fractured vertebrae and unable to work for six months.

The damage was lasting as Matt has no use of two of his arm muscles and is receiving physiotherapy for his shoulder pain more than two years after the accident.

Matthew explains: “I found myself sitting against the wall with my son watching on. I started to assess what I could and couldn’t move. I had shooting pain down my back and could move my left side, but could barely move my right arm.  Not trying to get up or moving probably saved further damage.

“My son ran to get my wife to phone an ambulance. It wasn’t long before the police arrived followed by ambulance crews and the air ambulance with doctors from the Southern General in Glasgow. Because I was still conscious and could move, as far as they were concerned, they took me by ambulance to Hairmyres Hospital.

“A CT scan revealed that I’d fractured the C5 and C6 vertebrae. That’s when panic set in. I got strapped to a bed on the Friday afternoon and had to lie still until the Monday.  I was then transferred to Edenhall Spinal Unit within the Southern General Hospital, Glasgow.  I had an MRI scan then an operation on the Wednesday to fuse the vertebrae together, taking bone marrow from my hip.

“One of the surgeons who I knew told me I was lucky to be alive and also not to be paralysed.  I was off work for around six months, and couldn’t drive for three as I had been fitted with a neck brace. Generally, the impact on the business was minimised, however, as I was covered under my insurance this allowed us to take on a relief milker. Family, friends and neighbours all rallied round to assist.

“The impact of an accident on those around you can sometimes be underestimated. My son was there when the accident happened. Unbeknown to me he struggled to sleep afterwards and it hit him hard. He was in his last year at school and sitting his Highers and thankfully the school were understanding and he was able to help out a bit more. My wife Wilma was also able to take some leave and her work were also great.”

Matt reflects on what he could have done better on the day: “The annoying thing is that I have a specific bucket, that has been modified to make working at safer, but I didn’t use it on this occasion. This could have prevented my fall but I was in such a hurry to get the job done. Since the accident if I’m working at heights I use a snap safety line and carry out a risk assessment.”

“It is human nature to think ‘it won't happen to me,’ but unfortunately it can, especially if we continue to take risks, whether major or minor,” says NFU Scotland President Andrew McCornick, member of Farm Safety Partnership Scotland.

“Having recent first-hand experience myself of farm accident when working with heavy materials I completely realise that taking preventative, proactive measures is one of the best things all of us can do for our farm and workers. Most preventative practices are common sense. Tragically, like mine, most accidents are caused by simple factors such as habit, haste, fatigue, and improperly maintained machinery. This week, we hope that by hearing from real farmers like Matt about their experiences and how they affect families and the community, we can persuade farmers of all ages that this week, and every week, farm safety is a lifestyle, not a slogan.”  

Notes to Editors

  • Farm Safety Week is supported by the Farm Safety Foundation, Farm Safety Partnerships, the Health & Safety Executive, Health & Safety Executive for Northern Ireland and Health & Safety Authority, Ireland. For more information on Farm Safety Week visit or follow @yellowwelliesUK on Twitter/Facebook using the hashtag #FarmSafetyWeek
  • For members of the press who would like to arrange an interview, either with Farm Safety Partnership Scotland or with those featured, or for photographs, email
  • About Farm Safety Week: Farm Safety Week started in 2013 and struck a chord with the farming community with the initiative being recognised by 56 per cent of the farming community according to recent Voice of the Farmer research*. Voice of the Farmer interviewed a sample of 1,800 farmers across the UK in April 2017, matched to UK profile of all farms by country and farm size.
  • The Farm Safety Partnership (FSP) Scotland brings together some of the key stakeholders with an interest in farm safety in Scotland. The Partnership comprises The Scottish Government, NFU Mutual, NFU Scotland and Health & Safety Executive.


Contact Ruth McClean on 0131 472 4108

Author: Ruth McClean

Date Published:

News Article No.: 102/17

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About The Author

Ruth McClean

Having worked in the communications and journalism industry for the last 11 years, NFU Scotland’s Communications Manager Ruth McClean understands the needs of journalists and has extensive knowledge of the wider agricultural industry. After growing up in Argyll and Bute and working in the area as a reporter for local newspapers for eight years, Ruth joined NFU Scotland in 2013 in her current role. She is also Editor of the Union’s membership magazine the Scottish Farming Leader.

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