Yorkshire farmer Mark Rooke heard the crash as his young son, Peter, fell eighteen feet through a roof light onto the concrete floor below him.
He knew his son could be seriously hurt but his first reaction was one of massive relief as he heard 20-year-old Peter shout out in pain. “My greatest fear was that if he had he fallen on his head or back he would be dead but when I heard him cry out I knew he was still alive,” he said.
Peter was in great pain as he had broken the femur in his left leg. He was airlifted to hospital where surgeons pinned the leg with a steel rod. Peter was unable to return to work for eight weeks.
The accident happened in June 2008, a busy time of year at the family farm near Helmsley, North Yorkshire. Apart from the trauma of the incident Mr. Rooke had to bring in contractors to cover Peter’s workload.
“I would say we are very safety conscious in our work routine,” said Mr. Rooke. Peter had attended an agricultural college where health and safety was part of the syllabus.
Like many farmers Mr. Rooke and his wife had decided to diversify the business on their 300 acre mixed farm. They have opened a butchery outlet for the sale of meat from the farm reared beef cattle, pigs and sheep, a shop selling locally sourced vegetables and cheeses and a restaurant. Peter manages the farm side of the business and his father and mother concentrate on the catering and sales outlets.
Routine maintenance around the farm is part of the work load. On the day of the accident Peter was clearing out a long length of gutter running between a farm shed and a lean to storage building. His father was working with him on the roof. “It is a job I have done for the past 30 years and whenever I was working on the roof there was a farm worker below so I was not alone. The roof on the building is asbestos and moss is an ongoing problem. The gutter cleaning is an annual job which we have to do to ensure that there is no water leakage when grain is stored in the building below.
It was a fine day but heavy rain was threatened so there was some pressure to get the job done before the weather changed. The roof had been boarded to enable us to carry out the work safely. I told Peter about the dangers before we went up there together and to be very careful.
We had only been working up there for about ten minutes when the incident occurred. Peter had stepped backwards from the safety boards onto the (fragile) roof light which gave way and crashed straight through to the floor below. He cannot explain how or why he had stepped backwards and it must have been a lapse in concentration.
“I ran to him and he was in great pain with his leg. Peter was airlifted to hospital. It was a terrifying experience for us all and I am so grateful that he made a good recovery.”
Since the incident Mr. Rooke has had a safety harness and a back rail fitted to the roof so that anyone working at height there is securely held.
Peter Rooke says he does not remember the moment he stepped backward on the roof. “I had done some small repairs to the gutter and was brushing out moss and leaves. I cannot explain why I stepped back from the safety boards. I must have momentarily lost concentration. The roof light is Perspex so it could not have held my weight. I do remember throwing my arms out to try and grab something as I fell and that had the effect of angling my body so I fell on my side. Otherwise it could have been much more serious I was lucky too that I did not land on anything in the workshop below. There were lathes, oil drums and tractor parts which were sharp and solid and had I fallen on them they could have caused much more serious injury.”
“I have always thought about safety in relation to my farm work but this has made me more aware. It all happened in a split second and it could have been my life. I was extremely fortunate that day.”
Mark Rooke, who is president of the Helmsley Young Farmers’ club, says working conditions on farms have changed over the years.
“There were more men employed on farms years ago and the work load was spread more evenly. We seem to have more to do in a shorter time particularly around harvest time because the weather is unpredictable and things can get pressured.”
His advice in the light of Peter’s accident is ‘Always take the time to THINK of the worst thing which might happen to you BEFORE you do the job and then take the necessary safety action to prevent that happening.’