Steph’s story

9 August 2018

There’s probably not much that could have been done differently to prevent the freak accident that injured me, but we need to have those conversations and share our experiences. Trialsafe will be a brilliant platform to communicate these stories.

We were trying to harvest and beat the rain so we contacted the operator who had previously moved the header to take it from the shed and move it down to Lockhart for harvest. Richard was flying in from Sydney to help.

I had a look at the tyres and told the driver I was going to duck around and check the back tyres as it had been sitting in the shed for a month or so. To start the engine, you had to hold the glowplug for 15 seconds, it had a dead man switch, and was only supposed to start while in neutral.

In my head, I thought if the machine is going to move, it will move forward. But instead, the header, which was in full throttle, slipped a gear into reverse which somehow overrode the hand brake and it came straight back at me. If I was a second later, I would have been clear.

At the back of the harvester was a metal casing which grabbed me from the left side at chest height and pulled me in. Luckily there was a sheep auto drafter behind me and I curled into it. The gate was open and my body just folded into it. It put a lot of pressure on me and I ended up with internal injuries. I was lucky because if the sheep auto drafter wasn’t there and I hit a wall, it would have been a different outcome.

The driver couldn’t see me and felt he had hit something so immediately drove forward and called an ambulance.

I felt like I had been badly winded but there was a lot more going on internally than I realised. I walked/shuffled out and was finding it hard to breathe. When I arrived in hospital, I learnt I had cracked a rib, had a 7.9cm laceration on my liver, nicked my spleen and had a large amount of fluid internally.

After an overnight stay in the ICU and four days in the short stay ward, the doctors realised something was wrong and I went straight into surgery for three keyhole operations. The fluid hadn’t drained correctly and eventually became toxic and my organs had begun to shut down.

SafeWork NSW was involved from the very start, and they conducted an investigation and checked the machine. It had been serviced the month before and there was nothing wrong with it mechanically. It was just a freak accident that it started in reverse.

I was in hospital for a total of eight days. Luckily, the body repairs itself quickly and if there’s an organ to damage, it would be the liver! By the end of the first week in hospital, the laceration had repaired itself from 7.9cm to just 1cm.  From when the accident happened on the last day of November 2017 to a follow up scan in the first week of January 2018, most of the internal injuries had healed.

However, because I had been in hospital and out of action for so long, I had lost weight and muscle conditioning and that took longer to recover. Because our job at AgXtra was really physically demanding, I had to be back to the same physical state as before which took quite some time. Richard and Annie and the team at AgXtra were brilliant and helped me with office duties to ease back into work.

I finished up at AgXtra in March as I had previously planned and I’m now working in a new role at Jamestown in South Australia.

I think Trialsafe is a great idea. I’ve always been safety conscious and believe in Murphy’s Law – for example, you don’t park near a truck if you’re going to be loading or unloading. I think that particularly if you’re working for a business, you need to be that much more aware because you’re in the public eye.

I’m a lot more conscious about machinery now and more aware of my surroundings for things like using a forklift at work or helping my partner on the farm with jobs even as simple as hitching a trailer. A lot of it is common sense but it’s great to have industry participants on board to help start that conversation.

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