Ergonomics and musculoskeletal injuries in agriculture: recognizing and preventing the industry's most widespread health and safety problem.
Chapman L; Meyers J
NAHSC 2001; :1-20
Emerging data suggest that agriculture faces a near epidemic of musculoskeletal disorders. While there is not good national data on the extent of these injuries and illnesses either within agriculture or relative to other industries, there is growing evidence that this problem likely exceeds all other types of injury and disease in the agricultural industry. The 1988 National Health Interview Survey reported that workers in production agriculture were the most likely to report daily exposures to a variety of musculoskeletal injury hazards. Re-analysis of this data (Guo et al., 1999) shows that the reported one year period prevalence rate of back pain among individuals working in production agriculture was about one and one-halftimes higher than the average for all US industries. Data from another NHIS follow-up study (Leigh and Fries, 1992) reports that farming was the occupation most often associated with disability in females and the second most often in males. Studies on agricultural workers in California (Meyers, et aI, 1998, 2000) report rates of musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) incidence ranking among the highest risk industries and 100 times greater than rates suggested as industrial targets by NIOSH (Healthy People, 2000). These authors report incidence rates of 40 per 1000 workers in nursery and floriculture and 80 per 1000 workers in vineyard operations. F or comparison, the nonagricultural industry sectors with the highest 1997 rates for repeated trauma disorder were meat packing plants (922 disorders per 10,000), knit underwear mills (910 disorders per 10,000), and motor vehicles and car bodies (711 disorders per 10,000). At the same time, researchers have demonstrated that these potentially permanently disabling injuries are readily prevented using ergonomics approaches. Farmers and farm workers face some of the highest risks of work-related musculoskeletal injury and disease in the nation. However, the problem is little recognized within or without agriculture and is not currently given high prevention and research priority by most farm safety groups or organizations. The information presented here should result in: 1) reprioritization of agricultural health and safety research and prevention priorities with musculoskeletal disorders at or near the top; 2) expanded funding and support for developmental engineering research on new technologies for critical field problems such as hand cutting of plant materials, stooped posture, and lifting and carrying of heavy materials; 3) development of an organized system of surveillance for musculoskeletal disorders in agriculture; and 4) funding and support for expanded field intervention and prevention programs in cooperation with farmers organizations and the Cooperative Extension Services.
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