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Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane
Catherina Cunnane hails from a sixth-generation drystock and specialised pedigree suckler enterprise in Co. Mayo. She currently holds the positions of editor and general manager at That's Farming, having joined the firm during its start-up phase in 2015.
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‘When I was 23, I lost my left arm’ – farmer’s incident with PTO shaft

Slow down and a take a minute to assess the potential danger – that is the main message James Chapman wishes to convey to the farming community following a farm accident in 2005.

He features in a video from Yellow Wellies, where he recalls how an accident, involving an unguarded PTO shaft, resulted in the loss of his left arm.

“I have lived on a farm all my life, and when I was 23, I lost my left arm,” he explains.

“There was nothing unusual at all; it was a normal day, and just like that, it changed and possibly became the worst day of my life.”

“I was asked to go work for a friend of mine, and the morning just did not start right. The first machine that he wanted me to use would not start; it was too cold.”

The farmer found another piece of machinery and told James to “get on it and start using it”.


That would not operate correctly either, so he asked him to use a tractor and a vacuum tank, both of which he had used before, but not those particular machine models.

“It was a small 90hp tractor, and the tanker was probably older than I am. The PTO guard was in very bad condition, and looking back at it now, I would not go near it or use it.”

“I set it up, went to the back of the machine and had a look in the hole. I was another two men with me. Three of us looked at the hole, and the water was not emptying.”

“They asked if it was set right, so I went back to the front of the machine without turning anything off.”

“Between the front of the tanker is the pump, and I put my hand under the exhaust. I remember thinking, yes, it is all set, right.”

But as he was pulling away from it, his jumper got caught in the rotating PTO shaft.

If his memory serves him correctly, the pump was on the opposite side of the PTO. So instead of walking around, he leaned over and put his hand over to check the exhaust.

“It did not take much. It was like a roll pin sticking out of the PTO shaft. Within half a second, it had pulled me all in and spat me out the other side without an arm.”

“The pain was unreal. I knew my arm was gone,” he explains.

Hospital, surgery and recovery

He was then hospitalised, and was taken for surgery within the first ten minutes, but surgeons could not restore his arm.

Medics posed the idea of possibly years of “painful treatment with no guarantee of success”.

After weighing up the implications, he decided “that I would be better without it, to be healthy and to get on with life”.

Emotionally, to begin with, he says he was “quite strong”, but after time, with “attention drifting away”, he became depressed and also had to come to terms with the end of a three-year relationship.

He reveals that “thinking back, the depression was more about our relationship ending than the loss of my arm”,

Chapman says that following the accident, life has moved on, but sometimes, he experiences flashbacks, remembering more of the accident than he had initially been able to recall.

He openly shares his story in the hope that it will force farmers to think twice before they undertake a task.

“Just be careful. If you are tempted to rush with an urgent job stop, take stock and measure the cost of cutting a safety corner against the risks of losing a limb or even your life.”

“The risk taken is not worth it because there can be no going back once the unexpected happens,” he concludes.

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