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Dave Allen

North West

Interview with Dave Allen - combine harvester accident. To view this media, please turn on Javascript.

Video Transcript

It looked like the grain was going to be coming out of the tank quite well that day.

So after the first load there was about a wheelbarrow full left in the bottom of the tank and I thought if I get rid of that next time the tank will empty out.

But on the day I went up over the roof of the cabin in over the front and the combine didn't know I was in there basically.

That was the mistake I made.

My steel toecap just caught the edge of the auger in there and I felt it pulling my foot in.

To start with I thought my boot was gone and I was clear but what had happened my foot was gone.

It was a good half an hour I was there lying a few things go through your mind you think oh what am I going to do now because I'm self employed how am I going to fund my or pay all my bills now.

I had to go into theatre that night, I was in hospital for a month.

I had to go in for physiotherapy every week.

I was actually off work for 5 months.

If on the day.

I hadn't hurried so much and gone up over the front and I just pulled this ladder down and climbed up there like I should have this button would have there's a button in here that stops the mechanism the unloading mechanism as soon as I pull this ladder down.

By the time I get in there it would all be stopped. So I'd still have my leg.

People see me out and about and think I'm back to normal. It's when you go home in the evening or night time and you're hobbling around on your crutches because you haven't got your prosthetic leg on and you know there is things that people don't see that they probably don't quite understand.

It's not it was life changing there's no doubt about that. On that day my life changed.

When you go to have a shower I've got to have a stool in the shower to kneel on because I obviously I can't stand on one leg.

The night when I came home and I drank too much in the pub and I got out to go to the loo and I forgot I never had a leg and then you end up upside down between the bed and the wardrobe and thinking oh how did I get down here.

I used to like going walking on the beach and go and have a paddle or something but you think well that isn't quite as easy any more.

I can't go swimming easily. I could if I I'd be quite conscious actually of my leg.

Actually that day was the first day that I thought you know I might not live to an old age after all and it never entered my head before that I might not live till I'm you know I get old but all of a sudden you think oh there could be something in the way.

It does pay not to cut these corners.

We've all cut corners on our job because we're always pushed for time and you always think you're infallible or indestructible it's never going to happen to you but it does and these all these devices on safety devices are there for a reason.

Yeah but we've done it loads of times and you always think it's never going to happen to you don't you.

It's only a split second decision it was only a wheelbarrow full left in there.

I would recommend that anybody just stop and think if it doesn't matter how much pressure you're under it's not worth the life changing problems that you get afterwards.

The promise knot I always carry in my truck when I come to work is always hanging up on the mirror and you do think about it.

You do promise to come home. That's the idea.

2008 was not a good year for harvesting. The wet weather had restricted work but finally the climate had changed and now that it was drier and brighter, self employed farmer, Dave Allen, was able to resume harvesting the wheat down in Cornwall.

Dave had been contracted to harvest a field for a local farmer. Unfortunately a little of the grain had got stuck in the tank of the combine harvester. Dave, who was working alone, got into the tank to release it by kicking it to make it move. However, Dave’s decision to rectify the situation as quickly as possible would lead to horrific consequences.

"Rather than using the ladder to enter the tank, which would then stop all the mechanisms, I decided to go in over the top – which meant the mechanisms were still fully operational."

"The machinery got hold of my boot so I tried to pull my foot out of it. I managed to release my leg but realised that something was seriously wrong. I was wearing a boiler suit and couldn’t see the bottom of my leg – but I knew from the weight that my foot was gone. I also knew that it was only a matter of moments before my boiler suit was going to get caught and then that would be it. I knew I had to get out of the grain tank or I wasn’t going to survive," he remembers.

"Human error caused my accident. All the safety devices were working correctly but a split second of trying to cut a corner – to save time - resulted in me losing my foot and part of my leg," Dave admits.

Fully conscious, Dave managed to haul himself out of the tank onto the cab roof of the combine harvester, climbed down into the cab where his phone was and rang the contractor he was working for to get him an ambulance.

"It took about 30 minutes for the ambulance to arrive because no one knew the exact location of the field. It seemed like a lifetime."

During that 30 minutes Dave focussed on the potential financial problems his accident could lead to. Self employed, he worried about not having an income in the immediate future, whether a rash decision had threatened his livelihood. "It was a kind of defence mechanism."

He also called his fiancée, Cath, (now his wife) to tell her he’d had an accident – but didn’t explain the severity. "I was devastated when I found out," she says. "So much goes through your mind, but there is also a numbness. I remember wondering, how will we survive, get through this? It was Dave’s positive attitude that actually helped me and the whole family in those first few days and weeks."

Dave was in hospital for a month and underwent six operations. He also developed an infection – probably due to dirt getting into his foot. Following his stay in hospital, Dave went to stay with family. "I needed somewhere where I could get around in a wheelchair. They were wonderful – they, along with Cathy, did everything for me. I stayed for about four weeks, then, once I was able to move around on crutches, I returned home."

Dave then had the painful process of learning to walk again, months of physiotherapy and adapting to a prosthesis. It was sheer determination that got Dave through his ordeal. "At first I had flashbacks, which made me shudder. I knew how close it had all been. The one thing that haunts me is seeing my boiler suit hanging down and knowing that if it had got caught in the auger then that would’ve been the end," he admits.

Whilst the emotional aspect has been arduous, the financial aspect – the one that he’d focussed on during that long 30 minutes wait for the ambulance – never materialised.

"I have been so lucky. I’ve had a good support system around me and the contractor I was working for continued paying me so there was no hardship financially. Not everyone is that blessed. It was five months before I was able to return to work and life could have been much worse than it turned out to be."

Dave comes from farming stock. He grew up on the family farm, first owned by his grandfather and then passed onto his father. He never wanted to do anything else other than be a farmer himself. Following the sale of the family farm Dave decided to go self employed and has enjoyed a successful farming career for over 30 years.

"I’d never broken a bone in my body before that day," he says, "Everybody in farming knows somebody who has been injured or killed in an accident. My advice to others is quite simple: do not do what I did. Just really think and realise that these safety devices are there for a reason and do not over-ride them. One day it could be you. Don’t think it only happens to others. I’m proof that isn’t the case."

Dave is a keen advocate of the Make the Promise. He knows only too well how a split second decision can change a life. His Make the Promise knot is a constant reminder as it hangs from the mirror in his truck.

Updated: 2013-03-19