Bringing combat gear to farmers

Farming is a dangerous business — the fourth most hazardous occupation in the United States, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. More farmers and farm workers die each year than police officers or firefighters, and more farmers sustain serious injuries leading to permanent disability. Children aren't spared, either. At least 100 child and teen farm workers die and 14,000 are injured each year in work-related accidents.

"So often, everyone in the family is pitching in to help, and the smallest often bear the brunt of the injuries," says David S. Morris, M.D., a trauma surgeon at Mayo Clinic's campus in Rochester, Minnesota.

Maria Flor, R.N., the trauma coordinator for Southwest Minnesota Trauma Services, comes from a farm family and understands the hazards farmers face. Buying her dad a Combat Application Tourniquet (C-A-T) led to a much more ambitious project: bringing injury prevention education to Farmfest, an agricultural trade show that draws as many as 40,000 people to tiny Morgan, Minnesota, (population 881) for three days each August.

Because farm injuries often involve deep lacerations or full or partial amputations that result in severe blood loss, Flor thought Farmfest would be an ideal place to introduce and demonstrate the use of lifesaving products such as the C-A-T and QuikClot, a kaolin-based hemostatic gauze.

"Serious injuries occur on farms each year, but unfortunately, not everyone has the tools or education to treat them. Our goal was to help provide that," says Flor, who believes all farmers should carry hemostatic products with them.

Although some Farmfest attendees expressed real interest in the safety message, the response wasn't as enthusiastic as Flor and volunteers from the southern and southwestern Minnesota trauma regions had hoped. "We had contact with some farm families, but not as many as we anticipated," she explains. "We found that although people hoped injuries wouldn't happen, they didn't want to think or talk about it much."

Dr. Morris points out that awareness is a big issue. "These are very hardworking people in a dangerous occupation who don't think an accident will happen to them," he says. "Yet if you ask at a family reunion how many people have all 10 fingers and toes or have had flesh torn by a piece of machinery, you suddenly realize that a lot of people have had bad things happen to them."

The hazards of farm work are compounded by time and distance. It can take hours to discover an overturned tractor — the leading cause of agricultural deaths — and hours more to extricate someone from it. "When you have severe bleeding, minutes matter, and having a tourniquet in your pocket removes some of that time pressure," Dr. Morris notes.

The upside

Although the safe farming message was serious, the delivery wasn't. For instance, innovative games where players wore distracted driving goggles to simulate the effect of 16-hour workdays on judgment and coordination were a hit. "We wanted to have fun while making the point that farm equipment is unforgiving and people need rest to be safe," Flor says.

To Flor's surprise, other vendors, such as Ziegler CAT and DuPont Pioneer, wanted to get involved, even offering to distribute C-A-Ts and QuikClot to their customers. And youth development groups were interested in finding appropriate ways to teach kids how to apply tourniquets and respond quickly to injuries.

Same tent next year?

Initially, the Farmfest outreach was to have been a one-time event. But the idea seems to have taken on a life of its own, spreading from the regional to the state level. "We don't know what our plan going forward is yet, but we're not done bringing the message to the farming community," Flor says. "I think we'll have even more success when we come alongside other agribusinesses and present our information during various meetings, field days or trainings."

Meanwhile, Dr. Morris definitely foresees a trauma presence at Farmfest 2015.

"Next year, we'll have a booth in a better location and reach more people. Almost everyone understands the importance of tourniquets for stopping bleeding. But we have to increase awareness that improvised tourniquets generally don't work and may do harm, and that having the right tools is important. This whole idea started when Maria bought her dad a C-A-T tourniquet. It's an easy, inexpensive thing that can mean the difference between life and death," he says.