Here is an article I found on the importance of designing tools that work for women. Trying to use tools that just don’t work the way they are supposed to is a constant problem for me, ranging from the minor annoyance of having to find a step stool because I’m too short to reach something to blisters and sore muscles from tools improperly because I physically can’t use them the way they were designed. Power tools in particular tend to be problematic. A lot of drills and saws that are designed to be used one-handed are so bulky and heavy that I end up having to use both hands which puts my back and shoulders in an awkward position. Tools attached to poles like shovels, weed cutters, tree trimmers, etc are also a problem because the handles are never the right length. I end up having to work around the ends of the poles or can’t use the grips correctly. If it’s a tool I’m carrying, sometimes have to carry it in the wrong direction or lift it way higher than I should because the ends drag on the ground or cause me to trip. For example, when I’m checking fences and am carrying a tree trimmer bucket of fencing supplies, the arm carrying the trimmer has to be held at chest height so the handles aren’t dragging on the ground and I end up with a sore arm for a couple of days afterwards.
The percentage of female farmers and farm employees is growing, and with that the demand for tools that are designed for women is growing. There are more tool sets being marketed to women than there used to be, but be careful when you go out looking for “women’s tools” that you are buying are well-made tools ergonomically designed for women. A lot of the “women’s tool sets” that I’ve looked at are either 1) cheaply made tools that are just smaller rather than ergonomically re-designed or 2) tools that haven’t been redesigned at all but have been painted pink. Through jewelry making and stained glass I’ve found a couple fantastic sets of pliers, and Sears at one point had a really good women’s ergonomic hammer, but otherwise I haven’t had much luck. It sounds like there is a group of ergonomics researchers who are looking to change that though, so here’s hoping they come out with some better options.
The AgriSafe Network has announced the dates for several online ergonomic training sessions. A lot of physical issues associated with farming like back and knee problems are due to repeated stress rather than one-time injuries. The sessions are titled “Ergonomic Safety for Farm Women”, but the principles involved apply to anyone looking to prevent injuries and illnesses caused by ergonomic issues. The dates of the seminars are April 3rd, May 22nd, and July 16th. Click on the link below to see the course description and to register for a training session:
Today I thought I would share this article from the Marshfield Clinic on preventing back pain. Short-term and long-term back pain are very common in people whose jobs involve a lot of lifting or operating heavy machinery. When people talk about preventing back pain, they often talk about lifting with your legs or wearing a back brace. These things can help, but the best way to prevent back pain is to minimize how much lifting and carrying you do in the first place. For example, rather than carrying buckets back and forth by hand over long distances, put them in a wagon or use a vehicle to transport them. We’ve been using an old lawnmower with a utility wagon to transport feed across the yard and it’s been working well. Even small reductions in lifting and carrying can add up over time!
One major cause of lower back pain that isn’t covered in as much detail is full body vibrations caused by operating heavy machinery. One of the professors in the biomedical engineering department here has been studying ways to prevent back pain in truckers. Installing shock absorbing seats seems to help somewhat (click here to see some examples of shock absorbers for tractors). However, like with lifting-related back pain the best prevention is to try to reduce or eliminate exposure to the vibration. In a lot of cases it isn’t practical to avoid vibration completely, but even taking a break for 5 minutes every hour or so and rotating operators if possible so that one person isn’t taking on all of the vibration can help. Like with lifting, even reducing your exposure a little bit here and there can add up over time!
October is Ergonomics month so I thought I’d mix some ergonomics articles in with the harvest safety articles. The article I’m sharing today is from the local channel 2 news in Iowa City about a farm equipment vibrations study by two University of Iowa professors. I’ve been able to see some of the equipment for their study and it’s really neat.
Vibration has been studied extensively in other jobs like construction work and trucking, but this is one of the few studies that has focused on farm equipment. Full body vibration is a major cause of lower back pain, and can cause pain in other parts of the body too. There are a number of strategies for reducing the effects of vibration, although some of the strategies are not very practical for farmers: reduce the number of hours spent operating equipment, sit up straight and don’t twist or bend while operating equipment, invest in newer machines that require less force to operate the controls…Other strategies such as wearing a back brace or taking a break to get up and stretch every hour or so are more practical, but there have been mixed results as to whether or not they are effective at preventing vibration-related pain. Vibration-reducing seats have been shown to reduce exposure and increase comfort levels for truckers, and are available for tractors too. They can be pretty pricey (A quick Google search came up with models ranging in price from $150-$2000) but might be worth the investment if it makes driving more comfortable.