Earlier this year, legendary baseball great Mark Fidrych died while working on his farm in Northboro, Massachusetts. He was working underneath his truck when his clothing became entangled in a power takeoff (PTO) shaft. PTOs are used to transfer power from tractors or trucks to other machinery. They spin at an incredible rate of speed. A single thread or a wisp of hair can lead to a fatal encounter. Few who are entangled in a PTO live to tell the tale. According to a PTO fact sheet put out by the North Dakota State University's Agricultrual Department, they could "...Wrap your arm or leg around the PTO shaft nine times in one second at 540 PTO rpm, or nearly 16 times in one second at 1000 PTO rpm."
Farm injury survivor Kristi Ruth learned the reality of that statistic the hard way. She was working on her family farm with her Dad and her brother in 2007 when her arm became entangled in a posthole digger's PTO.
"But as Kristi began to remove her hold on the three-point support bar by the auger head, the back of the glove on her cupped left hand caught on a shear bolt that was a quarter inch too long. Although the PTO had already begun to wind down, it was too late.
In a frantic instant, Kristi's left arm wrapped around the machinery up to her shoulder, breaking her bones with every rapid turn. She was trapped, and what started as a beautiful winter day suddenly became a horrific moment frozen by the piercing screams of her father and brothers and sounds of snapping bones and ripping flesh, like fabric being torn into rags. A race to free Kristi from the implement began. Her life hung by the threads of her torn coat.
With the PTO stopped, Joe frantically jumped from the tractor and fished for his cell phone, handing it to Jake, who quickly dialed 9-1-1. With her good hand, Kristi reached for her own cell phone and gave it to Josh so he could also call for help while her father and Jake worked feverishly to untangle her.
They unhooked the digger from the hitch point, and Jake dug in his pocket for his pocketknife. In what seemed like hours, Jake used his dull knife to painstakingly saw away at the shreds of Kristi's coat, being careful not to cut her. They hurriedly unwrapped her from the auger -- her arm spun around the cold metal like a wet rag -- and as she stood, her limp arm drooped to her knees."
Kristi broke her arm in six places and severed a major artery. The level-headed response of her family and an incredible medical effort managed to save her life and her arm, although she has severely diminished functionality in that arm. But after several years of recovery and surgeries, Kristi is on the lecture circuit bringing the farm safety message to other kids. She's also tells her story in My Name is Kristi, a safety DVD available from Iowa State University Extension Service.
Even before her injury, Kristi was all too familiar with agricultural dangers - her uncle was killed in a tractor rollover in 2005. Farming is a dangerous business and encounters with PTOs continue to be an all-too-common common source of farming fatalities. PTOs must be shielded and guarded at all times.
National Children's Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety
A PTO safety sheet along with a grim tutorial on freeing a PTO accident victim from the National Ag Safety Database