NIOSH Study Examines Farm Tractor Operators' MSDs

"Jarring/jolting exposure and musculoskeletal symptoms among farm equipment operators" is the title of a NIOSH study published in the September-October 2008 issues of the International Journal of Industrial Ergonomics (Vol. 38, Issues 9-10, pp. 758-766) that is part of a special issue devoted to whole body vibration.

Authors A.G. Mayton, N.K. Kittusamy, D.H. Ambrose, C.C. Jobes, and M.L. Legault compared drivers' whole-body vibration exposures with ACGIH threshold limit values and recommended interventions to reduce the risk of back injuries for farm workers, particularly injuries related to vehicle jarring/jolting. The authors used two independent samples, field data, and health and work history data of farm equipment operators engaged in mowing, raking, baling, chiseling, tilling, and road travel for different model tractors. Spraying using a sprayer and shrub removal with a skid-steer loader were also included.

The roughest rides and highest vector sum accelerations occurred with small utility tractor mowers and a skid-steer loader. Ninety-six percent of participants reported having to bend or twist their necks, 24 percent reported neck symptoms, and 64 percent reported back symptoms.

The authors recommended buying tractors with seats that better isolate operators from jars/jolts; maintaining the seat/seat suspension and replacing worn or damaged cushions with NIOSH-tested viscoelastic foam padding; using larger-diameter tires; using a swivel seat to reduce bending and twisting motions; and improving efforts to educate owner/operators of the adverse effects of vibration exposures.

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