A Powys farmer who needed five hours of surgery after his thumb was hit by a 200kg hammer has urged others to follow safety guidance.

Alwyn Watkins, 28, who farms with his parents, Nigel and Gwen, near Rhayader needed five hours of surgery after it was hit by the 200kg hammer of a fencing post driver.

In May 2023, Alwyn was replacing fencing on a field boundary on a hillside, using a post driver.

He admits he was rushing to get the job done and hadn’t carefully considered the implications when a stake snapped and he reached for it without moving the arm and weight of the driver out of the way.

“I was wearing a fencing pouch and as I went to grab the stake the pouch was flung up by the wind and it hit the lever that sends the weight downwards,” said Alwyn.

“My thumb was on the stake and the weight came down straight on top of it.’’

The bone in his thumb broke in five places and the skin covering it was split open, exposing the bone – however this was made even more complicated by the unsanitary conditions in the field.

“They had to pull the bone out and clean it because they were afraid of sheep muck being on the bone and causing infection,’’ said Alwyn, who spent three days in hospital.

Alwyn said he fully expected to not regain use of his thumb but fortunately he has almost made a full recovery only leaving him with poor circulation in his injured hand.

“When I took the dressing off, I couldn’t believe my eyes, my thumb had healed really well, said Alwyn. “It is never going to be right but it is somewhere near.’’

Wales Farmer: Alwyn Watkins and Brian Rees are warning others of the dangers of this type of equipment.Alwyn Watkins and Brian Rees are warning others of the dangers of this type of equipment. (Image: Farming Connect)

Although the accident was serious, Alwyn considers himself lucky that he didn’t damage his entire hand or arm.

The accident not only had an impact on his physical wellbeing but on his business too. The family usually rears 20,000 pheasants for Bettws Hall Sporting Club but with Alwyn out of action that job had to be cancelled.

Alwyn has reflected on what happened and has some important rules he now lives by.

“I was in a total rush because I had so much work in front of me but from this experience I have learned to slow down when I am fencing, it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been rushing.’’

His message to other farmers is similar.

“Take your time when you are using a post driver, and when something doesn’t go to plan push the weight out of the way. It’s about using common sense I suppose, I didn’t and look what happened.’’

Alwyn has been working with Farming Connect and the Wales Farm Safety Partnership to raise awareness of the dangers of using post drivers, including featuring in a video with Brian Rees, a farmer who is also a trainer and mentor in health and safety at Farming Connect.

Brian says these machines can be “extremely dangerous’’.

“As stated by the manufacturers, they can kill – in fact someone was killed this year as a result of a head injury sustained when they were using one - so it is really important that people use post drivers safely, are vigilant and read the safety handbook.

Appropriate training in the use of a driver is advised, with some manufacturers able to provide training for specific models.”