Watch Your Back: Expert Advice for Farmers on How to Avoid Pain and Injury When Using Machines
It is one of the most basic tools of the farmer’s trade; The tractor. But spending long hours in the tractor seat means doing everything possible to make sure you’re seated comfortably to avoid pain and repetitive stress injuries.
Ask any farmer how they are physically and the back pain complaint is always at the top of their list of ailments, especially at this time of year when you spend long periods in the tractor cab.
While there are many causes of back pain, all of those rocks, bumps, furrows and ditches that the farmer goes through can take a physical toll.
Agriculture is a physically demanding profession with many daily tasks that need to be done potentially harmful to the back muscles. Tasks such as pitching and lifting heavy weights are notoriously difficult for this part of the body.
Recent evidence-based research has identified a high prevalence of musculoskeletal injuries among Irish farmers. A survey of 600 Irish farmers – 100 farmers from each of the six major farming systems in Ireland – found that 56% of farmers had suffered a musculoskeletal injury.
The most common types of injuries or disorders were related to the back (37 pc). Risk factors include heavy loads, awkward postures, repetitive tasks, and limited access to the area in which the work is performed.
Long days sitting in the tractor with the constant vibrations of the machine can strain your muscles. This, combined with repetitive activities with poor posture, can lead to pain.
According to occupational therapist Catherine Durcan, there are rules of thumb that farmers can follow that will make long periods behind the wheel of the tractor easier.
Durcan, the daughter of a Co Mayo cattle rancher, says taking regular breaks when getting off the tractor can help. She advises a standing break every half hour. This brings blood to the fore again and while it is always best to get out of the tractor, just getting up and out of the seat will help.
Durcan says repetitive stress injuries (RSI) are a common complaint if the seats aren’t adjusted properly. Nerve damage can also occur due to the constant vibrations of a tractor if the suspension is poor or the ergonomics of old cabins are poor.
Being aware of your posture when seated is important, adds Durcan. She asks the questions: “Are your feet flat on the ground?” and “do you have spaces between your thigh and your seat?” ”
These are things farmers should be aware of before embarking on a long day in the cabin. She advises farmers to sit in their seats and look for a higher backrest on the tractor seat to allow them to do so in comfort.
“One of the first things a farmer should be aware of is his size in the seat. It’s a good idea to measure the widest part of yourself when you’re seated, and then try to get a seat of at least 75% of that, ”she says.
It is also important to ensure that the tractor seat back provides adequate support. “The back of your seat should support the back of your buttocks and lower back – it should support your back as much as possible – and your seat should also support your thigh up to the back of your knee.
“It would be nice if they could have armrests. Farmers look to the functionality of the tractor a lot and they have to look for adjustments to the seat so that it can get up and down, back up and forward. Durcan specifies that if they are sitting back in the seat, the farmer should be able to reach the steering wheel without stepping forward. “They should be able to turn it as far as needed without breaking away from the backrest.”