The British Society for Surgery of the Hand brings together multidisciplinary specialists to ensure patients with injured and disordered hands receive the best possible care when and where they need it.

Denise Shirley is an orthopaedically-trained hand consultant operating in Musgrave Park Hospital. She works closely with the plastic surgeons in the Ulster Hospital, Dundonald, Northern Ireland to manage farm injuries.

In time for Farm Safety Week, she explains some of the most common agricultural hand injuries and how they can be avoided.

‘Distracted by assistants’

“The most common hand injuries on the farm are caused by everyday tasks,” she said.

“These are jobs that farmers have done multiple times before, where the repetition might have led them to become complacent.

The types of injuries we see include minor cuts from barbed wire or fractures from heavier animals that startle in confined spaces.

“We also see ligament injuries – especially of the thumb – caused from restraining animals on reins or ropes.

“Crush injuries tend to happen increasingly during the summer months, as this is when farmers are fencing. They may leave a hand on top of the post as the post-driver descends – this is often because of distraction while talking to assistants.”

Although surgery has developed to optimise the position in which fractures heal, the hand function can be permanently impaired from some of these injuries, causing difficulties with returning to farming.

Where patients can return to work, these injuries can delay their return for significant amounts of time as they require long recovery periods and careful sessions with hand therapists.

Denise explains those working in the industry can take a number of preventative measures to reduce the likelihood of injury:

  • Use your common sense and take a moment to consider the risks and the best approach to a task.
  • Wear protective gloves;
  • Keep children away from machinery;
  • Follow safety precautions;
  • Ensure your tetanus immunisation is up to date – this can prevent the spread of infection if an accident does happen.

“Although it sounds simple, not removing safety features from various tools, such as circular saws, is another easy way to prevent hand injury,” she said.

“Avoiding shortcuts when changing equipment on the tractor – especially parts which use the drive shaft – is also incredibly important, as this is still the most prevalent farming-related cause of life-changing hand injuries.

“Severe blast injuries caused from exploding tractor tires can be avoided by keeping pressure gauges on compressors in good working order.

“It is vital that you go to a hospital and see a hand surgeon if you have a deep wound. You can discuss with your surgeon the best way to manage your injury and how long your hand function will be affected,” she added.