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‘Chewing away at the top of my ankle’: new trauma program for Australia’s most dangerous industry

The program will be rolled out across 180 locations over the next three years. Careflight staff will teach 2,000 to 3,000 farmers and other regional residents practical skills to help them respond to a traumatic event, such as a farm accident or car accident.

Nutrien Ag managing director Rob Clayton said the program would get farmers’ first aid trauma skills up to speed. “They’re common in the city, but they’re not common in the bush,” he said.

Matthew and Catherine Madden, with their son Alexander (left).Credit:Grace Quast

“The goal for us is to equip our rural communities with more skills so that more lives can be saved.”

Catherine, who didn’t know first aid, said her husband’s injury would have been “beyond my grade” even with training, but teaching rural people skills to help others was a good idea. “Every time there’s an accident, you think, ‘oh my God, I hope this person is going to be OK’ … they affect everybody.”

For his part, Matthew remained calm in the paddock that day, even as the slug “chewed away at the top of my ankle”. When he arrived at Moree Hospital, he recalled, a junior doctor “lifted the sheet, looked at my injury, put the sheet down and went and sat in the corner. That’s when I started to worry.”

The Royal Flying Doctor Service flew Matthew to St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, and that night he underwent an eight-hour operation to clean wheat out of the wound and save his leg. He needed another operation to transplant a muscle from his stomach into his leg, and it took him two years to return to work. He still walks with a limp.

He said farm worker trauma training would be especially helpful if it helped responders know what tools or implements they might have on hand to save a life like his neighbors had known.

His new auger was equipped with better safety mechanisms, including a kill switch at the bottom of the machine, and in general the industry was more focused on agricultural safety than it was a decade ago, he said.

“The farms have become bigger, with more employees … That’s why I tell my story to everyone, because the effect of an injury on your business and your private life can be devastating.

“I knew this is a dangerous piece of machinery if you don’t know what you’re doing. I knew the risk of this and I still got caught. It was a moment of carelessness.”

The Australasian College for Emergency Medicine said while training first responders would prevent deaths, all Australians had the right to timely, safe and professional medical care and rural areas needed more health resources.

NSW Farmers welcomed the initiative. It also calls for a new iPhone emergency feature to be made available in Australia, which will allow users in remote areas to call for help using satellites when they don’t have a network signal.