A Devon farmer was so concerned after narrowly escaping a serious accident in his tractor and by the death of a neighbour in a tractor incident on a nearby farm that he wrote to the Health and Safety Executive with details of his frightening experience in support of the Make the Promise Agricultural Safety campaign. Both the incidents had involved farm dogs being loose in the tractor cabs.
The farmer and his family have worked their beef and sheep farm for over 40 years. Last autumn the farmer drove the tractor to a field on the lower part of the farm to clear and pick up branches and wood which had been cut from the hedgerows. He had his Jack Russell terrier in the cab with him. He loaded the trailer with wood and set off back to the farm.
“Everything was fine,” he said “I was driving back very slowly so that the wood on the trailer would not topple off when the tractor engine roared into full throttle and began to race down the field. I was shocked at the suddenness of it and the vehicle seemed to have gone completely out of control. I immediately put my foot on the clutch and switched off the engine. When I restarted the engine exactly the same thing happened. It was only then I realised what had actually happened in that few split seconds. The dog had been sitting between the two gearboxes when a pheasant flew up at the side of the vehicle. She had jumped down in excitement straight onto the accelerator pedal. It happened in a flash and the vehicle lunged forward at full speed. Had I not managed to stop in time the tractor would have gone straight through the farm gate. The other frightening thought was that my grandchildren could have been playing in the area as the field is close to the house. Like many farmers I was guilty of taking my dog with me wherever I went on the farm but after the near miss I don’t put her in the cab any more.”
“The year previously a neighbour, a friend of mine, was sadly killed in an incident which again involved a farm dog being in the tractor cab. He had been working on land close to ours and had begun mowing a field of grass with his tractor and trailer. He cut a couple of rounds and then stopped his tractor at the top end of the field to make some sort of adjustment to the mower. His sheep dog was left in the cab. while he climbed down to adjust the machinery. The mower suddenly dropped down onto him and he was crushed. Although it was not proven it was assumed that the dog had somehow caught a lever in the cab, releasing the mower.
The poor man had then remained trapped under the mower all that day because although people had seen the tractor they assumed that the farmer had left the vehicle while he went to get some parts for a repair job. When someone eventually went to check toward the end of the day the farmer was found dead under the mower.
“I very nearly had a serious accident for the same reason - the dog was in the cab. It was a near miss and I was extremely shaken and very fortunate. The consequences could have been really terrible for me and my family that day.
“The message I would like to get across to everyone working in the farming industry is that it is so unsafe to have a dog loose in the cab. I appreciate that farmers have to take working dogs with them, particularly when working with sheep for example, but it is important that the animal is properly restrained.”