Posted by Bryn Harper
It is no secret that with the warmer months in Australia comes a huge increase in snake activity across the country, as our scaly friends come out of brumation in search of a meal and a mate.
Most of us in the outdoor industry have had an encounter or two with a snake in our careers, and most are usually a harmless experience that now makes for a good story around the break table. This can, on the occasion, result in a fairly relaxed attitude regarding snakes and in the past decade in Outdoor Ed, I have heard my fair share of worrying statements regarding snake safety and first-aid. Most of these revolve around the statistic that, according to the University of Sydney, there are on average 3000 recorded snake bites in Australia each year, and yet only 2 of these result in death. This overlooks the fact that more than 300 of the bites result in envenomation, which whilst won’t always result in death, can lead to long-term damage to a person’s cardiovascular and nervous systems. The reality is that if a client in our care (or ourselves for that matter) is bitten by a snake, it is a serious incident that may have far-reaching repercussions if it’s not handled correctly.
So how do we get properly prepared? As with everything in the industry, training and effective equipment of course!
First Aid Supplies
There are a huge range of outdoor-specific first-aid kits available on the market, and a lot of you reading this will carry a kit on a daily basis that meets the specific standards of your various organisations.
However, anyone working in the outdoors should be, at the very least, carrying a bandage specifically designed for snake bites such as the Aeroform Premium Snakebite Bandage. The classic crepe or elastic-style bandages are no longer standard, as they provide very little control over the regulation of venous drainage and very minimal coverage. Setopress bandages, on the other hand, are printed with a series of indicators that show when the correct pressure is reached. The Aeroform bandage is also over 10.5m long when stretched, meaning it takes only 1 bandage to reach the arm pits, and two to reach the groin area. The result is a much faster and more accurate overall process, which is what we all strive for in any first aid scenario.
If you want further advice on first-aid kits and pricing, you can contact Equipped Outdoors here
Equipped Outdoors ALWAYS recommends all of your staff undertake training at a registered training organisation. Even basic First Aid courses provide valuable knowledge of what to do in a snake bite scenario and may mean the difference between a well handled situation and a disaster.
First Aid techniques are continually evolving, so it's important to refreash your knowledge in between courses. The Australian Venom Research Unit is a great source of in-depth information and of course Youtube is always an option, where the likes of Bob Cooper provide simple and to-the-point instructional videos.
For the time-poor, blogs such as this, and the one published by QORF last year, are great way to stay up to date on any changes, such as the range of recommendations published in 2017 by the Australian Flying Docter Service (based on the Australian Snakebite Project) that may come in handy as a refresher:
Many dangerous myths surround the treatment of snakebites. The most important dos and don’ts include.
- Do NOT wash the area of the bite or try to suck out the venom. It is extremely important to retain traces of venom for use with venom identification kits.
- Do NOT incise or cut the bite, or apply a high tourniquet. Cutting or incising the bite won’t help. High tourniquets are ineffective and can be fatal if released.
- Do bandage firmly, splint and immobilise to stop the spread of venom. All the major medical associations recommend slowing the spread of venom by placing a folded pad over the bite area and then applying a firm bandage. It should not stop blood flow to the limb or congest the veins. Only remove the bandage in a medical facility, as the release of pressure will cause a rapid flow of venom through the bloodstream.
- Do NOT allow the victim to walk or move their limbs. Use a splint or sling to minimise all limb movement. Put the patient on a stretcher or bring transportation to the patient.
- Do seek medical help immediately as the venom can cause severe damage to health or even death within a few hours.