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Back pain among persons working on small or family farms -- eight Colorado counties, 1993-1996.

Xiang H; Stallones L; Hariri S; Darragh A; Chiu Y; Gibbs-Long J
MMWR 1999 Apr; 48(15):301-304
In the United States, work-related back pain often results in lost wages, reduced productivity, and increased medical costs (1,2). However, national surveillance data about these injuries, such as occupationally acquired back pain among workers on small or family farms, are limited (3). To characterize back pain in a farming population, researchers at Colorado State University interviewed adult farmers residing in eight northeastern Colorado counties (Larimer, Logan, Morgan, Phillips, Sedgewick, Washington, Weld, and Yuma) during 1993-1996, using the Colorado Farm Family Health and Hazard Survey (CFFHHS). This report summarizes the findings of CFFHHS, which indicate that back pain is common among farmers and most frequently attributed to repeated activities (RAs) (e.g. lifting, pushing, pulling, bending, twisting, and reaching). University researchers selected a sample of 500 small or family farms (i.e., less than or equal to 10 workers) in proportion to the number of Colorado farms in the National Agricultural Statistical Reporting Districts for Crop and Livestock. During the 3-year period using the CFFHHS questionnaire, 759 adults (aged greater than or equal to 18 years) were interviewed from 458 (92%) farms to determine whether the respondents had experienced daily back pain for greater than or equal to 1 week during the 12 months preceding the interviews. The p values for comparison of back pain prevalence by sex were calculated using the chi-square test. Most (458 {60%}) respondents were men. Average age of respondents was 50.5 years (range: 24-85 years). Of the 458 men surveyed, 411 (90%) worked on farms greater than or equal to 5 days per week; 451 (99%) worked greater than or equal to 2 days per week. Of the 301 women surveyed, 136 (46%) reported working on farms greater than or equal to 5 days per week; 227 (66%) worked greater than or equal to 2 days per week. During the 12 months preceding the interviews, 196 (26%) respondents experienced back pain lasting greater than or equal to 1 week. The prevalence of back pain among men was slightly higher than among women; both sexes reported that the lower back was the area most often affected. Approximately 45% of respondents attributed back pain to RAs; however, 13% of men and 8% of women attributed back pain to single incidents (SIs) such as slipping or falling. Approximately one fifth of all respondents attributed back pain to both RAs and SIs. Depression, occupation, and long-term employment in agriculture also had statistically significant associations with back pain (4). In all age categories, the prevalence of back pain did not differ significantly among men and women, except among those aged 30-39 years (36% versus 21%, respectively; p=0.044). For men, work-related RAs were more likely than nonwork-related RAs to cause back pain; for women, nonwork-related RAs were more likely to cause back pain. Compared with women, men experienced back pain more often at work than at other locations, but this difference was statistically significant only for RA-related back pain. The overall prevalence of RA-related back pain among women was slightly greater among those who performed farm work than those whose duties were restricted to work in the home, but this difference was not statistically significant. Because of back pain, 38% of men and 30% of women had made "major" changes (undefined in the survey) in work activities; 10% and 8%, respectively, either changed or stopped their work permanently. Dairy farmers were substantially more likely to report back pain (43%) than farmers who produced field crops (27%; p=0.058) or raised livestock (25%; p=0.054). The prevalence of back pain among farmers working on large farms (i.e., annual sales greater than or equal to $100,000) was slightly higher than that of those working on small farms (29% versus 24%, respectively; p=0.15).
Farmers; Agricultural-workers; Agricultural-industry; Back-injuries; Injuries; Injury-prevention; Traumatic-injuries; Repetitive-work; Statistical-analysis; Musculoskeletal-system-disorders
Publication Date
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Journal Article
Fiscal Year
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NIOSH Division
Source Name
Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report
Page last reviewed: September 22, 2020
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division