Farm accident study helps safety

Don Hauschild really didn't set out to make agriculture less deadly. But that appears to be a bottom-line result from his study of fatal farm accidents and the training he has provided to emergency responders and others.

Hauschild is an eCare-ICU nurse for Via Christi Health, a high-tech remote monitoring system.

He also is the son of a farmer whose hand was injured in a combine accident, a Vietnam veteran who realized agricultural accidents resembled battlefield injuries, a former air ambulance technician who helped care for accident victims and a paramedic.

That background added up to his compiling 25 years' worth of data on 547 fatal farm accidents in Kansas plus training for paramedics, air transport crews, firefighters and others.

In the early years covered by his study, "there was no education in extricating people from farm accidents," he said, so he helped develop rescue techniques that still are being taught.

"The thing that kills most of the farmers, from the time I started this study, is tractors," he said. They accounted for nearly half of the fatal accidents in Hauschild's study, and more than half the tractor accidents were overturns.

Rollover equipment and seat belts are standard on tractors now, Hauschild said, but some farmers don't use seat belts, some still have older equipment and some have disabled the rollover equipment to get their tractors through low barn doors.

Without protection, tractor rollovers are fatal 90 percent of the time, he said. With it, "99 percent of them would walk away" from the accident.

Hauschild said the number of fatal agricultural accidents has been going down through the years, in part because of protective equipment and in part because rescue crews have been trained "so the actual time it takes to rescue these people has really been cut down."

His study notes that specialized training now is offered as part of University of Kansas-sponsored fire schools and by Johnson County Community College's paramedic program.

Industrial farming concerns, he said, "are pretty darned safe." The typical victim is an older man working by himself on a family farm. About three children die each year in farm accidents, too.

Hauschild tracked any fatal accident that happened on farm or ranch land, whether it was work- or pleasure-related. That explains the high number of accidents in Sedgwick and Johnson counties, he said: "Horseback riding accidents skews it."

Sedgwick County had the highest number of fatal accidents — 22. The total includes the seven people who died in the 1998 DeBruce Grain elevator explosion.

In contrast, accident numbers are low in western Kansas, where ranching rather than farming predominates.

Hauschild's study goes through March 2005. He plans to update it in 2010 and expects it to show an upsurge in all-terrain vehicle accidents.

Collecting the data, Hauschild says in his study, helps focus safety curriculums toward threats, helps trauma systems evaluate their response, and alerts manufacturers to unforeseen hazards.