Farmers urged to “Think before you lift”

Farmers are being urged to review their farming operations for work involving heavy lifting and to seek alternative methods of handling heavy loads. Research conducted by Teagasc, supported by the Health and Safety Auhority (HSA) and supervised by UCD indicates that every year almost 1 in 10 (9.4%) farmers suffer a musculoskeletal disorder such as back, hip and knee pain. The research findings were discussed yesterday (Tuesday) at a national seminar on occupational health of farmers organised by Teagasc and the HSA ity in Athy.

Farmers are being urged to review their farming operations for work involving heavy lifting and to seek alternative methods of handling heavy loads. Research conducted by Teagasc, supported by the Health and Safety Auhority (HSA) and supervised by UCD indicates that every year almost 1 in 10 (9.4%) farmers suffer a musculoskeletal disorder such as back, hip and knee pain. The research findings were discussed yesterday (Tuesday) at a national seminar on occupational health of farmers organised by Teagasc and the HSA ity in Athy.

The findings indicated that the most frequently affected body parts are the lower back (31%); knee (15%) and hip (12%).

Over half (55%) of farmers with a musculoskeletal problem felt it was due to a one off specific farm injury and the principal causes were general lifting (50 %), animal handling (13%), slips, trips and falls (12%) and using machinery and equipment (11%).

These injuries were often quite severe with almost 4 in 10 farmers with a musculoskeletal problem missing over 4 days of work in the previous year with 22% having missed more than 15 days in the year. Larger scale full time farms, particularly dairy farms, have the highest risk of work related musculoskeletal problems. The research found that 73% of farmers surveyed consulted a health professional in the previous year, with 80% consulting a medical doctor, 10% a physiotherapist and 10% for other types of consultation.

Farmers with back pain interviewed as part of the study emphasised the importance of planning work carefully as rushing can lead to injury and also the need to avoid heavy lifting where possible or to adapt it using equipment.

Teagasc Director Professor Gerry Boyle said the health of farmers is a key sustainability factor in agriculture. “Injury prevention and health are vital lifestyle and farm business sustainability issues for farmers. There are many inexpensive technologies available to farmers to avoid manual handling of loads. The improvement of the occupational health of farmers is the focus of this Teagasc – Health and Safety Authority Joint Prevention Initiative.”

Martin O’Halloran CEO of the HSA spoke about the importance of reducing manual handling tasks. ”The best approach to preventing injury was to do an assessment of the risks involved. This applies to all activities but in particular to the high risk area of manual handling which causes significant injury for farmers. The focus should be on finding ways to eliminate or to reduce lifting tasks while using correct techniques where occasional lifting is necessary.”

The research took place over four years from 2008 – 2012 and used data from two major surveys; National Farm Survey - 1,150 nationally representative farmers (conducted face -to-face) and a further survey involving 600 farmers. Also, a number of individual case studies were carried out. Also at the seminar, 80 farmers were presented with FETAC Certificates in Farm Health and Safety and 25 Teagasc staff were awarded FETAC Manual Handling Instructor Certificates.