Proper Ergonomics for the Farm Industry

National Farm Safety Week
March 14 - 20, 2008

Individuals who work in the farm industry have an increased risk of back injury, sprain and strain because of the demands imposed on them in their work environment. Back injuries can be avoided by improving physical condition, keeping a good posture and maintaining a healthy body weight. These factors will contribute to reducing the number and severity of sprains (injury to a ligament), strains (injury to a muscle) and back pain. Heavy lifting and awkward postures are most to blame for back injuries according to Dr. Paul Schwann Applied Health and Research Centre and Farm Credit Canada .

There are four major points to remember when planning to lift:

  • Examine the load – Estimate the weight and manoeuvrability. Evaluate the demands of the task and whether or not there will be a shift in weight.
  • Plan the job – Know where you are going and ensure that the drop off path and area are clear. Respect your limitations and know when to ask for help. Wear the proper equipment such as gloves, supportive shoes and clothes that will not get snagged.
  • Prepare to lift – Get a good grip. Practice safe lifting techniques including taking your time.
  • Rotate tasks and rest – The same task done repeatedly can cause muscles to tire resulting in posture and balance being compromised. Change the task and the nature of the demands on the body and allow time for rest.

Here are four safety tips to apply when lifting:

  • Maintain a neutral position – To minimize the stress on your spine.
  • Keep the load close – Squat down in front of the object and hug the load close to your body using both hands, then stand up. Your back should remain in a neutral position.
  • Save your strength – Make a task easier by keeping the weight reasonable and do not overdo the load. It is better to make two trips and preserve your state of fitness and health. Use your legs to lift instead of your back and arms. Use assistance whenever possible such as dollies, ramps, and utility carts to conserve your strength. Know when to rest.
  • Don’t twist – Let your feet do the moving (not your waist); keep your spine straight.

Remember also to check your posture when driving a tractor. You want to sit with your full back supported against the seat. Sit close enough to the steering wheel so that your knees are bent and are even with (or slightly higher than) your hips. Elbows should also be bent with hands on the steering wheel. Shoulders should be in a comfortable position, not rolled forward. Shift your position frequently. When mounting or dismounting a tractor or other large equipment, always do it facing the tractor and remain steady by keeping a good hands-on grip.

Good ergonomic habits can go a long way in ensuring a long and healthy career in the farming industry.