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Healthy Workplaces Lighten the Load


Last week was European Week for Safety & Health at Work themed: ‘Healthy Workplaces Lighten the Load’ - part of the Healthy Workplaces Campaign 2020-22. Francis Bligh & John McNamara, Teagasc Health and Safety Specialists take this opportunity to advise on avoiding work-related injury on the farm

Healthy Workplaces Campaign 2020-22 is organised by the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work (EU-OSHA. The campaign aims to raise awareness of work-related musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) and the importance of preventing them.

Work activities on the farm by their nature involve physical manual work. It is important that this work is planned well and risks of musculoskeletal injury, particularly back injury are avoided.

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are a serious cause for concern for farmers.  Irish research has found that 57% of farmers lost full time workdays, with over 22% losing 15 days or more.

Factors that increase the likelihood of Musculoskeletal injury

Excessive force

Lifting a heavy load places excessive demands particularly on the spine, but also on other  joints, muscles and ligaments . Overloading the spine in particular can cause permanent damage  to the  discs, which can be irreparable and extremely painful.

Tip : Ask yourself  key questions .

Before each task ask yourself the questions:

  • Can I avoid or reduce heavy lifting during this task ?
  • Can I use a tractor or other vehicle to move materials ?.
  • Can I use a trolley to move materials,
  • Can I position a machine to make reattaching it easier the next time?
  • Can I purchase inputs like fertiliser or concentrate in a form that avoids heavy lifting ?,
  • Can hang a gate to avoid lifting it or fit a wheel on it.

Quick hitch mechanism for rear and front three-point linkage to enable hitching of implements without the need to descend from tractor are eligible under the Acceleration of Wear and Tear Allowances for Farm Safety Equipment Scheme. Under this scheme applicants can claim accelerated capital allowances of 50% p.a. over two years. Other eligible items include animal anti-backing gate for use in cattle crush or race and big bag (equal to or greater than 500kg) lifter, with or without integral bag cutting system.

To find out more visit  DAFM - Accelerated Capital Allowances for farm safety equipment

Awkward posture

If a load is bulky or hard to grasp, such as an animal, then an awkward postural position  can occur. When forces are applied to the body in an awkward posture it has reduced strength and injury can occur. Sometimes the size of an item, or a shortage of space for movement, results in a load being held away from the body. Holding a load at arm’s length imposes about five times the stress that holding the same load very close to the body would.

Tip:  Arrange facilities.

Plan work to ensure a firm stable stance is maintained when carrying out physical jobs.

Foot stands along a cattle crush reduces the need for reaching, A head scoop on the crush head gate can help restrict animal movement during procedures.

Consider veterinary products that are in pour-on or injectable form to reduce the need for physical interaction with animals.

Have calving gates available in sheds were cows are calving and use them.  Use benches in workshops to avoid stooping over equipment.

Repetitive movements

Bending and twisting repetitively when carrying out a task exerts force on joints and muscles numerous times. This causes wear and rear over time.  For example, fitting clusters on cows places pressure on the hand arm shoulder and spine on one side of the body. If carrying clusters is alternated between hands this force is distributed across the body more evenly.

Tip :  Plan Work

Work should be planned in a way that alternates tasks or includes time for breaks from a repetitive activity.

Watch below to find out more about how to reduce the impact of repetitive strains on the body

Rest periods

When physical force  is exerted on the body for a prolonged period the body gets tired and the risk of musculoskeletal  injury increases dramatically.

Tip :  Take Breaks.

Farm tasks must be planned to avoid prolonged physical stress on the body. Adequate time must be allowed to complete the job. This must include rest breaks. Try to break jobs like fencing, into sections that can be done over a few days or consider seeking help to reduce the physical effort involved.

Twisting the Spine

Twisting the spine is highly dangerous. This is particularly the case if lifting a load which is held at an extended position from the body. Twisting and lifting in this way puts a ‘shear’ load on discs which do not have lateral ligament protection. This can cause discs to shear or rupture.

Tip: Don’t twist Spine.

Become conscious of situations and avoid where the spine can be twisted.  Consider reorganising the workplace to avoid twisting the spine.

Further details:

Full details about the 2020-22 Healthy Workplaces Campaign including lots of helpful information and guidance can be accessed at HSA - Healthy Workplaces Lighten The Load - campaign guide (pdf)

H.S.A publication - Reducing the Risk of Back Injuries on the Farm 

See more from Teagasc on Farm Health & Safety