‘I was on a high – but life can change in a blink’

A County Derry farmer who is learning to walk again after being overcome by slurry fumes, has spoken of his ordeal - and of his shock of learning he had no provision for personal injury cover on his farm insurance.

Saturday, 19th January 2019, 12:41 pm
Updated Thursday, 7th February 2019, 5:58 pm
George Haslett pictured at Musgrave Park Hospital in Belfast. Picture By: Arthur Allison Pacemaker.

Part-time farmer, George Haslett (44), has been in hospital since the near fatal accident on his Claudy farm on June 16, 2018. He was overcome with fumes while mixing slurry. George was rescued by his father and a neighbouring farmers after the alert was raised by 13-years-old Timothy Lynch who had been helping with lambs on the farm that day.

George is urging other farmers throughout the province to ensure they have the correct insurance cover in place and not fall into the trap of thinking that ‘it will never happen to me.’

Despite his life changing ordeal, George said he felt very fortunate as things could have turned out much worse for him.

Emergency services at the scene at the time of the accident. Pic Steven McAuley/McAuley Multimedia

The slurry gas has left him with a brain injury and he is currently in a wheelchair but hopes some day to be able to walk again. After his accident, doctors told his wife of 16 years, Ashley, that he would be left severely brain damaged.

George said that when he was young he remembered coming home from school and the insurance man would have visited at least once a year to discuss the insurance policies with his father and mother. But now he noted that policies are just automatically renewed and there was not enough discussion around the details. He fears farmers are taking ‘the cheapest quote’ in the belief that they will never have to call on the assistance of personal injury cover or critical illness cover.

It was in November, as he started down the road to recovery, that he discovered the policy on which he, his father and his brother had been named, did not cover him for personal injury.

He said he also since discovered that he could have included personal injury provision on his home insurance, but he said he was not advised of the option at the time he took the policy out.

He explained: “If this accident had happened to someone else (a third party) other than a policy holder or person named, they would be covered.

“So I just want to make other farmers aware of this, so that if the same thing happened to them they would have something in place when a life changing event happens.

“The life that I once had was full and active but there have been many changes to a life trying to manage in a wheelchair. It could have been death in my case and I have been fortunate in lots of ways. But for you to think you are insured then to find you’re not covered is not good news.

“My life has changed big time. I spent all my time working and I had very little spare time for things other than the farm and work. I just want to make sure that no one else goes down the same route,” said George.

The Claudy man has been in hospital for seven months and now gets home for weekends and returns to Musgrave during the week.

“I can’t walk yet. I have improved and we’re hoping that I will be able to walk again independently,” he added.

“My story is one of those stories that could have been a lot worse. I’m not the same as I was before but it’s a lot better than it could have been,” maintained George.

Since the accident he has had to sell his breeding sheep and change the system on the farm so he gets other family members and friends to help out with just the dry stock.

George is keen that farmers in Northern Ireland take a look at their insurance policies and make sure they have enough cover. He said that at the time he took out his policy he wasn’t advised to include personal injury in the cover.

Whenever he started to recover in November he rang his NFU insurance agent, only to be told the news that the cover wasn’t in place.

“They never asked me about personal injury. I think I got the cheapest quote so that I would just go ahead with the insurance.

“My main concern is that people aren’t taking care of what they are insuring themselves for. People think it will never happen to them so they go for the cheaper quote.

“My problem is that I have a brain injury because of the gas. My brain has stopped me from walking. Even my doctor says this is a rare case.

“He put up a wall chart and said it was a miracle that I have awareness and everything else. I’m fortunate the way it turned out because it could have been a whole lot worse,” he added.

On the day of the accident George recalls being on a high after getting his best price ever for lambs at Donemana Mart - £107 apiece for 19 lambs.

George takes up the story: “Timothy wanted to go to the market that day with me and had stayed on. He had a keen interest in sheep and gave me help at lambing time. I know him through Boys’ Brigade where I work as a leader and he came up through the ranks. He just loves farming and wants to learn more about farming, especially sheep. He has sheep of his own on his grandmother’s farm.

“I got hen dung mixed and put half of it in for the first cut. Then I 3/4 filled the tank with water and mixed the rest in, then took out the pump and closed the tank.

“I came back approximately five weeks later after the first cut and opened the tank to agitate it again before spreading. I didn’t think much about the gas as it was only in a short while and the slurry wasn’t thick. A quick mix and get it out, I thought,” added George.

“I had four pet lambs that I had never put to grass in that same shed. They were near ready for market. I only thought about putting them out of the shed after the pumping had started. That is where I went wrong.”

George was found by Timothy who raised the alarm and alerted George’s father Ronnie (79).

“There were neighbouring farmers my mother rang who also helped that day too. They helped as my father got into difficulties so they were the ones that helped save us both.”

Both men were taken to Altnagelvin Hospital for treatment.

“Only for that young boy finding me, I wouldn’t be here today,” noted George.

“I would like to thank the Air Ambulance and all the rescue services deployed that day and the many doctors and nurses and care teams that have brought me so far in my recovery and rehabilitation.

“I would also like to thank my family and many friends who have helped practically and visited and prayed for me over the last nearly seven months.

“I want to thank God that He preserved the part of my brain no doctor could ever fix and for His continued healing to my brain so I will walk independently again,” added George.

Always a farmer first, George recalled sitting up in hospital a few days later.

“I was good after a few days. I was sitting up after three days and watched the weather forecast with Barra Best. It was one of the best forecasts I had ever seen in my life. I couldn’t talk, but I wanted someone to go and cut hay. I couldn’t believe the weather forecast and I had to write down on a sheet to go and get someone to cut the hay. And they cut the hay too you know!

“I don’t want another farmer to go through what I am facing. Even an accident that would leave you out of work for a few months could wreak your farm.

“When that accident happened I was on top of the world because I had sold the lambs for good money. Life changes with a blink and there are so many people out there who think it will never happen to them.

“There’s no point me sitting here if I can’t do good for other people through what happened to me.”