Farmers can help mitigate the risks of developing musculoskeletal disorders by paying attention to aspects of the work environment that contribute to fatigue, a precursor of discomfort, pain and injury, says Calgary workplace ergonomist Jill Bates. “The biggest risk factors for musculoskeletal health are static posture, awkward posture, force, repetition, contact stress and vibration.”
Here are the top five ways you can minimize your exposure to these workplace hazards:
1. Move your body. “You don’t need a 15-minute coffee break, but if you’re in the same position for an hour, you need to move. It’s essential for blood flow,” says Bates. “Stop the tractor or combine and take a quick walk around and do some stretches. I’m not in the business of making guarantees, but a farmer who takes a quick micro-break every hour will notice the difference.”
2. Maintain proper posture. When a body sits to work, ergonomists like to see elbows, hips and knees at 90-degree angles. You shouldn’t have to reach for the steering wheel or hunch over a workbench or computer keyboard. If long legs make it difficult to keep your knees below your hips, sit on a wedge cushion. To maintain a neutral spine, find a lumbar support backrest that keeps a gentle S-curve in your back.
3. Prepare for force. Before lifting, pulling or pushing, get the blood flowing to your extremities. Also try to store heavy items on racks above your knees. “We are most powerful from our shoulders to about mid-thigh,” says Bates.
4. Beware of repetition and contact stress. Look for ways to interrupt repetitive tasks with other movements (including stretches) and pay attention to contact stress, which occurs when part of your body makes frequent contact with a piece of equipment. Internally, this can impact nerves, tendons or blood vessels. In the legs and feet, contact stress is exacerbated by long hours on cement floors. An anti-fatigue mat at the workbench can make a big difference.
5. Mitigate vibration. Operating machines that vibrate your whole body increases your risk of musculoskeletal harm. Reduce the harm with a seat pad that dampens vibration. The bottom line is that healthier work environments require action. “It’s not normal to have aches and pains related to work, but it’s up to you to look for ways to make that better,” says Bates. farm life