I’m guessing the expression “stay safe” means one thing to farmers in this country, and something altogether more life-changing for the citizens of Ukraine.
The terrible events in that part of the world have sent shockwaves across the globe, some of which are causing intense concern for agriculture here.
But no matter how pessimistically we view this unfolding crisis, we must remember that, relatively speaking, we don’t have much to worry about by comparison.
We’ve got Boris with his hand on the tiller: they’ve got a despotic warlord at their gates.
Nonetheless, there is real anxiety among all our farmers – I cannot recall anything like this before, apart from perhaps the foot-and-mouth crisis back in 2001.
And among the angst and nervousness, farming must go on, with increasing spring workloads adding to the general stress and strain.
Maybe I’m becoming Mr Sensible in my old age, but I have been made aware recently that it is far too easy to concentrate on these macro concerns and ignore the small, insignificant safety issues around the place.
Three small events helped focus my mind on my own vulnerability in the past month – two of them due to my own carelessness, and one “mentioned” to me by my wife (ie a half-hour lecture).
During cold, calm weather, the poultry houses tend to drip with condensation. Occasionally, this means that one of the rows of lights blows the five-amp fuse, and Derek, the fully qualified electrician, has to trace the fault.
This involves balancing on a set of stepladders, while sniffing each of ten ceiling roses to find out where the problem has occurred. When overheated wiring suffers an insulation breakdown, there is a distinctive smell which pinpoints the exact location of the fault.
This particular technique may not be straight out of a British Standard training manual, but believe me, it is highly effective.
However, if two or three ewes are lambing at the same time then concentration tends to wander slightly, and after fitting a new fuse it is incredibly easy to dismantle the affected fittings without remembering to turn off the power.
When a “wee jag” of electrical current runs up your arm, it certainly focuses the mind for the next while.
Moving to an entirely different part of the farm, you might think that fitting hand protectors to a quad bike could not raise safety issues. However, after fitting a set during cold weather, I noticed a tendency for the thumb throttle on the Suzuki to stay open after removing my hand.
Rather than remove the offending gloves, I learned to adapt my accelerator control by pulling the throttle back with the other side of my thumb when slowing down.
I think he saw the funny side of it
This worked well, until my brother-in-law piloted the quad as we moved a flock of pregnant sheep up the road for vaccinating.
After shifting them across the road, he retrieved the bike and just as he should have slowed down to give me a lift back to the yard, he shot on past the gate at about 40 miles per hour.
As he disappeared round the corner, I wondered if perhaps I should have mentioned that wee issue with the sticking throttle. I think he saw the funny side of it.
And still on the safety subject, how about a spot of garden pruning?
I now wish I had taken a photo because it would have been a perfect picture for one of those children’s competitions.
Is that ancient, corrugated roof safe to stand on?
You know the ones, where the youngsters must identify how many potential risks the farmer is taking as he tries to prune the ivy crawling up the roof (which his wife has been reminding him about for two years).
Is that ancient, corrugated roof safe to stand on? Is the ladder correctly propped and supported? Should the farmer have suitable protective gear, or is a ripped boiler suit adequate? And if the wind is blowing the debris into the operator’s face, should he close his eyes for a few seconds while revving the chainsaw?
I mention these few examples as a gentle reminder that among all the everyday stresses and strains, and apart from the far more obvious dangers associated with farming, it is the most mundane and seemingly innocuous of tasks that might just catch us out. Please stay safe.