A moment’s inattention changed farmer Roger James’ life. “99 times out of 100 I wouldn’t have gone up that slope on the quad bike,’” he says. “I just wasn’t concentrating on what I was doing for those few seconds. I did it without thinking. Basically, I shouldn’t have been there.”
Roger, 49, was herding cows on his farm in Powys. Before moving the herd, he set off on his quad bike to check out the new field. With a number of tasks in mind his attention slipped, just for a moment, from steering the machine along an appropriate route.
That fleeting loss of concentration meant he found himself riding up a slope instead of continuing his approach on level ground. The result was sudden and dramatic. The slope was too steep for the vehicle’s stability. It tipped backwards and upended, throwing Roger on to the ground behind. As he lay there, stunned and unable to move, the tumbling machine landed on him. Half a tonne of falling metal hit Roger’s unprotected body and smashed his pelvis. He wasn’t wearing protective headgear so, serious as his injuries were, he was fortunate they weren’t even worse.
“Only the previous week I’d got myself a mobile phone, and that was the life saver, really,” says Roger. Despite his stunned state he managed to dial 999 for help, and also to ring his wife and son. His family members quickly located him, closely followed by a paramedic team in a first-response vehicle. The paramedics quickly assessed the situation and called for an air ambulance. In a commendably short time Roger was airlifted to hospital.
Roger spent eight days in traction before being transferred to University Hospital, Coventry for surgery. He then spent a further seven days in hospital and the following three months confined to bed. But the consequences of that momentary lapse are permanent. Roger’s injury has left him in constant pain with limited mobility. Even standing for a short time is difficult. As a man whose working and social lives revolved around physical activity Roger finds the new restrictions frustrating.
Roger has spent his life in farming. He worked for over 30 years on the land, tackling every task that came to hand and passing the family tradition on to his son. But far from looking towards winding down, he felt that he himself had many years of involvement still to come. The accident brought that idea to a traumatic end.
He has restarted part-time work on the farm, but managing only light duties. He accepts that he’ll never be able to get back to the long-established working pattern he was so used to. Naturally, that puts an extra strain on family finances. As for life outside the daily routine, Roger has seen his whole social structure disintegrate. He can no longer walk around agricultural shows to catch up with new developments and old acquaintances, and that same lack of mobility makes it difficult to keep in personal touch with the wider world.
Beyond farming, Roger’s biggest loss is his sporting activity. Endurance Motorcycling was his speciality, and for years he’d been a competitor at meetings throughout the country - in fact he’d come an impressive fourth in a national event shortly before the accident. Racing powerful bikes was a passion - a pursuit that matched his all-action character perfectly. Now the sport, the friends and the travel are out of Roger’s reach, and he feels their absence keenly.
What would he say is the lesson to take from his accident? Roger has no doubt, and he puts it simply and directly: “Keep your mind on what you’re doing. I’d done that sort of job hundreds of times before, and I got careless. My mind was elsewhere. I’d normally stick to level ground when I was on a quad bike, but on this occasion I got a bit distracted and found myself on the slope. I didn’t need to be there. I didn’t set out to be there. It was just a moment’s lack of attention. And always wear protective headgear - I was lucky, there.”
Roger had always been aware of the risks in the agricultural profession. “We spend our days working on our own in remote locations. We’re constantly handling powerful machines. And these days we’re doing more and more multi-tasking. It’s vital to keep your mind on the job. I’ve had years of experience, and my motor bike background gave me even more capability with quad bikes. Yet that brief lapse of concentration took me and the bike where we shouldn’t have been. Now I’m suffering the consequences.”
He sees the Make the Promise campaign as a valuable way of getting the message across. “It’s a simple little thing, the Promise Knot. But anything that’s right there when you’re working - and says ‘Remember’ - could make a world of difference.”