Secondary Injury Prevention: Ergonomics for the Farm

Ohio AgrAbility Fact Sheet Series
AEX-981.6
Agriculture and Natural Resources
Date: 
03/21/2011
S. Dee Jepsen, Assistant Professor, State Safety Leader, Agricultural Safety and Health, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, The Ohio State University
Kent McGuire, Ohio AgrAbility Program Coordinator, Agricultural Safety and Health, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, The Ohio State University
Danielle Poland, Student Intern, Agricultural Safety and Health, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, The Ohio State University

Ergonomics is the science of designing the job, equipment, and workplace to fit the worker, while maintaining the efficiency of people in the workplace. The use of ergonomics keeps workers safe, comfortable, and productive. Improving work posture, reduced force, and less repetition prevents injuries. Due to the labor-intensive nature of farming, ergonomics can be of great value in reducing the risk of injuries. Remember that old habits do die hard and many farming practices have been passed down from generation to generation. Following a few simple ergonomic guidelines can prevent injuries that develop because of continuous physical activity over a long period of time.

Hand Work

  • Avoid placing needed tools or other items above shoulder height.
  • Place frequently used items within 17 inches of the worker.
  • Alternate low-repetition tasks with tasks that require repetitive motion, such as in picking or weeding, for adequate recovery from the repetitive motion task.
  • Integrate seated jobs. Strain on the lower back and legs is reduced by sitting down while working. Standing causes legs to swell (more than walking does). The best jobs are ones that allow workers to do different types of work, changing from sitting, to standing, to walking and back again.
  • Allow foot and knee clearances for both standing and sitting workers, so they can get close to the work.
  • Have floor mats at standing workstations to reduce fatigue.
  • Use the proper workstation height.

Hand Tools

  • When tools require force, handle size should allow the hand to grip all the way around the handle so that the forefinger and thumb overlap by 3/8 inch. Handle diameter should range from 13/8 inch for small hands to 21⁄8 inch for large hands, with an average of 1¾ inch.
  • Cover handles with smooth, slip-resistant material (plastic or rubber).
  • Dual-handled tools (like shears or pliers) should have a handle length of at least 4 inches. They should have a spring return to maintain an open position, and handles that are almost straight without finger grooves.

Lifting

  • When lifting, keep the loads between hand level and shoulder level. Avoid lifts from the floor or over shoulder level.
  • Put handles on containers whenever possible.
  • Redesign loads so they can be lifted close to the body.
  • When carrying objects more than a few feet, it is best to utilize dollies, pallet trucks, or utility carts. Use roller conveyors for bags or boxes of vegetables or highly used chemicals. This will reduce the amount of lifting.

Stooped Work

  • Redesign the job to avoid stooped work by attaching long handles to tools.
  • Sit on a stool.
  • If stooped work is required, integrate with other short tasks that require walking or sitting.

Correct Posture While Sitting

Correct posture while sitting is equally as important as a person's posture while doing physical labor. Farmers need to consider ergonomics during every task on the farm, sitting or standing. The guidelines to follow while working in a seated position, including in a piece of equipment are:

  • Sit up with back straight and shoulders back. The buttocks should touch the back of the chair or seat.
  • All three normal back curves should be present while sitting. A small, rolled-up towel or a lumbar roll helps to maintain the normal curves in the back.
  • To find a good sitting position when a back support or lumbar roll is not available:
    • Sit at the end of your chair and slouch completely.
    • Draw yourself up and accentuate the curve of your back as far as possible. Hold for a few seconds.
    • Release the position slightly (about 10 degrees). This is a good sitting posture.
  • Distribute body weight evenly on both hips.
  • Bend the knees at a right angle. Keep knees even with or slightly higher than your hips (use a footrest or stool if necessary). Avoid crossed legs.
  • Keep feet flat on the floor.
  • Try to avoid sitting in the same position for more than 30 minutes.
  • Adjust the chair or seat height and workstation so it is as close as possible and tilt it upwards. Rest elbows and arms on chair, desk, or other available armrest, keeping the shoulders relaxed.
  • When sitting in a chair that rolls or a seat that pivots, do not twist at the waist while sitting. Instead, turn the whole body.
  • When standing up from the sitting position, move to the front of the seat. Stand up by straightening the legs when room is available. Avoid bending forward at the waist. Immediately stretch the back by doing 10 standing backbends, especially after being in the fields for an extended amount of time without the suggested break.

Acknowledgments

This fact sheet was reviewed by Karen Mancl, PhD, Professor, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, The Ohio State University; Josh Svarda, Program Coordinator, Easter Seals Work Resource Center.

References

U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources, Public Health Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. Simple Solutions: Ergonomics for Farm Workers (2001). cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2001-111/.

Cleveland Clinic. Posture for a Healthy Back. Ergonomic Task May 9 Chair Blog. thehealthchair.com/blog/back-pain/cleveland-clinic-posture-for-a-healthy-back/ (no longer available online).


About AgrAbility Based Fact Sheets
These fact sheets were developed to promote success in agriculture for Ohio's farmers and farm families coping with a disability or long-term health condition. AgrAbility offers information and referral materials such as this fact sheet, along with on-site assessment, technical assistance, and awareness in preventing secondary injuries. Fact sheets were developed with funding from NIFA, project number OHON0006.

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