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Applying the Science of Ergonomics to Farm Work


Did you know farmers and agricultural workers are at a higher risk of musculoskeletal injuries than most workers in the United States? Daily chores like lifting, carrying heavy objects, shoveling, stooping to pick crops, driving farm equipment and more can cause a lot of unnecessary wear and tear on the human body. Not only do these chores affect the workers' bodies, they can also negatively impact workers' earning and eventually decrease the farmer's profit margin.

Unfortunately many in the agricultural field see backaches, sprains, strains and pain in the shoulders, arms and hands as a byproduct of their jobs. Farm work is hard work; you don't need to make it harder on yourself. That's why farmers are now beginning to incorporate ergonomics into their daily routine.

What is ergonomics?

According to Webster's dictionary, "Ergonomics is an applied science that coordinates the design of devices, systems, and physical working conditions with the capacities and requirements of the worker." More simply put, ergonomics tries to alter the way workers' do their jobs to reduce stress on the body while increasing safety, comfort and productivity. "Only recently has the science of ergonomics been applied to farm work to help reduce the number of injuries that cost commercial agriculture millions of dollars each year in health care expenses, lost wages and lowered productivity," explains Glenn Soyer, Risk Management Services manager with Nationwide® Agribusiness Insurance Company, Des Moines, IA.

When it comes to ergonomics, small changes on a daily basis can help prevent and reduce injuries in the long run. Below are adjustments that can help improve a variety of tasks:

Hand Tools - Ensure your handle allows you to grip the entire tool with your thumb and forefinger overlapping by 3/8 inches. Choose your tools based on hand size (handle diameter can vary). Well designed tools will have handles 4" or 5" long, slip resistant material on the handle and a spring to keep the tool open.

Farm Implements - Visit your local Southern States to find ergonomically designed tools. Buying an implement that was designed with ergonomics in mind can help lessen the stress on your body.

Lifting- Try to keep lifting between waist and shoulder level. Lift as close to your body as possible. If you are able to, use containers that have handles to "lighten the load."

Carrying - If you must carry an object more than a few feet, use dollies, utility carts or pallet trucks. Conveyor belts can also be a back saver when repeatedly moving produce and other items across your work area. Try to utilize both arms. Your back will be less likely to strain if you carry two half full containers in each arm, than a full container only with one.

Stooping - Stooping occurs when you are bent forward and down from your waist and maintain this position with straight legs. Crop pickers are often seen in this position. To alleviate this position provide employees with either long handled tools or stools. If stooping is required, try to break up the employees' workday with other tasks outside of the stooped position.

Shoveling - As with carrying and lifting, don't overexert. Always lift first with your legs, not with your back! Remember, smaller shovelfuls are better than one large exertion.

Starting Small

Let your workers know that pain should not be a regular part of their jobs. Many farm workers continue to work very hard and fast while experiencing pain. Remind them, there is no shame in slowing down if you are hurting.  In fact, it could benefit the worker and farmer as the sooner the worker slows down the less likely they will miss a lot of work or file for workman's compensation.

By working together, you can develop ergonomic solutions to meet the needs of your workers and your farm. Rather than asking, "What is this going to cost," you need to focus on "how much will this save us in the long run?" A trip to your local Southern States can help get you started in choosing tools that are right for the job and for your employees. Remember small changes in the way you and your employees work around the farm can make a big difference in preventing injuries and increasing their longevity on the job!

Special Member Savings

At Southern States®, we are proud to be one of the nation's largest farmer-owned cooperatives. Southern States has partnered with Nationwide® Agribusiness Insurance to offer Southern States Cooperative member-producers in North Carolina and Virginia special discounts on insurance. In addition to giving you exclusive insurance savings, we're also joining forces to support the cooperative that means so much to you.

Nationwide® Agribusiness is the number 1 insurer of farms in the U.S. and a leading insurer of commercial agribusiness. Go to southernstatesnwag.com to find a local agent.


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