Advice on first aid when there’s a farm accident

It is well recognised that farming is a dangerous occupation. According to St John Ambulance, 4% of people working in agriculture suffer work-related injuries in an average year, higher than any other industry.

Being crushed by a quad bike is one of the most common injuries, as is trapping a limb in machinery or being trampled by cattle.

See also: More advice on dealing with farm accidents

Other risk factors include working with flammable fertilisers, falling from height and contact with live electricity wires.

Not only does agriculture carry a high risk of injury, but, because farmers often work alone or in remote locations, it can take trained medical teams longer to reach a patient to deal with the injury.

Consequently, how farmers respond to farm-related injuries is critical.

The “patient” could be the person with the first aid training, so knowing how to deal with the injury until help arrives is clearly beneficial, says St John’s medical director, Dr Lynn Thomas.

Blood loss

One example is applying a tourniquet to stem the loss of blood from a cut limb. “This definitely saves lives,” says Dr Thomas, who is experienced at dealing with trauma injuries and catastrophic hemorrhaging, following 28 years as a military doctor.

It is unlikely that a farmer will have a purpose-made tourniquet to hand in an emergency, but they can improvise, using a belt for example.

“Wrap this around the limb as close to the injury as possible, but always just above it and use a stick or a pen as a lever, to tighten the belt,” Dr Thomas advises.

Another common situation requiring first aid in farming, is when particles such as wood chips and metal filings lodge in the eye.

“Don’t rub the eye as it may cause more damage, and don’t try to remove the object as it could penetrate the eyeball.”

“Instead, flush the eye with clean water or eyewash, to try to wash the object out. But, if that doesn’t work, cover the eye with a loose pad and seek medical help.”

Training

Dr Thomas urges farmers not to rely on gut instinct in a crisis situation, but to get appropriate training and to periodically refresh this.

Even though some courses involve paying a fee, Dr Thomas doesn’t believe it is the cost that puts people off. “Farmers think they haven’t got the time for the training, or have the mindset that it won’t happen to them,” she says.

She believes hands-on training is more helpful than getting advice online or from an app, in delivering cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) for instance. “You need to know what it feels like, to have that muscle memory.”

Mental health

It is not just physical first aid that is important, but mental first aid too.

Dr Thomas says accidents are more likely to happen if someone doesn’t look after their mental health, as this diminishes their sense of awareness.

“Consider going on a mental health first aid course, to look after yourself and those around you,” she advises.

First aid checklist

  • A farm first aid kit should contain everything needed to handle a medical crisis on the holding, including a major trauma.
  • Consider developing several kits specific to the hazards and potential injury – what is appropriate to an individual farm depends on the farming system and the types of incident that may happen.
  • Label the kit to make it easy to identify and make sure everyone on the farm knows where it is.
  • Check it every few months and replace anything that has expired or is missing.
  • Include emergency numbers and written directions of how to get to the farm.
  • A first aid chart or manual that give details of necessary steps to care for the patient in different scenarios, and how to avoid additional injury, can be very useful during a crisis when it’s difficult to think clearly.
  • It may be necessary to improvise – if so, suggestions for suitable alternatives can be found at redcross.org.uk.

Common farm accidents and how to deal with them

Electrocution

  • Don’t touch the casualty.
  • Turn off the electricity source to break the contact between the supply and the casualty.
  • Alternatively, move the casualty away from the source, perhaps by standing on some dry insulating material, such as a plastic mat or wooden box, and using a broom handle or wooden pole to push the point of contact limb away from the source.
  • If it’s not possible to break contact, loop some rope around the underneath of the casualty’s arms or ankles and pull them away from the source.
  • Once contact is broken, perform primary survey and call 999.

Minor head injury in an adult

Hold ice pack against head.

Assess level of response with AVPU scale:
A – Are they alert?
V – Do they respond to your voice?
P – Do they respond to pain?
U – Are they unresponsive? If they are or you are worried call 999/ 112 for emergency help

Severe head injury in an adult

  • Call 999/112.
  • Monitor breathing, prepare to do CPR if necessary.
  • Try not to move in case of a spinal injury. 

Fractures

  • Cover wounds.
  • Support the injured part above and below the joint.
  • Put padding around the injury.
  • Call 999.
  • Don’t move the casualty unless you have secured the limb.
  • Treat for shock.

Severe chemical burn

  • Check area is safe.
  • Wear protective gloves and flood the burn with cool running water for at least 20 minutes.
  • Call 999.
  • Remove contaminated clothing.

Cardiac arrest

  • Call 999/112 for emergency help.
  • Don’t leave the casualty.
  • Use a defibrillator if available – follow the voice prompts.
  • Start CPR – give 30 chest compressions and then 2 rescue breaths and repeat until help arrives.
  • If casualty becomes responsive place in the recovery position.

Apps that could save a life

First aid courses

Case study: fall from height

Seven-year-old Heidi Todhunter broke both wrists and sustained a head injury after falling from height at her parents’ dairy farm in Cumbria.

With no training in first aid, her father Nigel could only alert the emergency services and make his daughter comfortable until the air ambulance landed at the farm.

Heidi, who had been playing in a loft with her brother, Caleb, happily made a full recovery, but had her injuries required emergency first aid, the outcome could have been different, Mr Todhunter fears.

“At that point I didn’t have a clue what to do,’’ he admits. “Farming is an industry that is dangerous and accidents do happen. This accident made me realise how important it is to know what to do and what not to do.”

Mr Todhunter, who farms at Greyrigg House, Thornby, near Wigton, has since completed a first aid course, tailored specifically to farmers, accompanied by his son Caleb.

“I was never sure how to perform CPR and I never knew what a defibrillator did, so I wanted to be aware,” says Mr Hodhunter. “It has made me much more confident that I could deal with an emergency and give first aid.

“For instance, I was taught that the simple action of tilting a patient’s head back could stop them choking on their tongue, a basic thing which could make the difference between life and death in some situations.”

Mr Todhunter says personal experience had taught him that everyone should know what to do in an emergency.

He has also installed what3words on his smartphone – an app which gives every 3m x 3m of the globe a unique three-word code and is also used by emergency services to locate casualties.

The app does not need a phone signal to tell someone their three-word location; and these three-word addresses are as accurate as GPS coordinates.

“If I had an accident in a field, the emergency services would be able to locate exactly where I was, because the three-word code for that location would be available on the app,” says Mr Todhunter.

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