|(er'-go-nom-iks)||Greek ergon, work + nomos, natural law|
Ergonomics is the science of fitting the job to the worker. When there is a mismatch between the physical requirements of the job and the physical capacity of the worker, repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) can result. Workers who must repeat the same motion throughout their workday, who must do their work in an awkward position, who must use a great deal of force to perform their jobs, who must repeatedly lift heavy objects, or who face a combination of these risk factors are most likely to develop RSIs.
RSIs are one of the fastest growing workplace injuries, costing employers more than $20 billion for 2.73 million workers' compensation claims in 1993. Indirect costs may run as high as $100 billion. Workers who experience RSIs may be unable to perform their jobs or even simple household tasks.
Often RSIs can be prevented by simple and inexpensive changes in the workplace. Adjusting the height of working surfaces, varying tasks for workers and encouraging short rest breaks can reduce risks. Reducing the size of items workers must lift or providing lifting equipment also may aid workers. Specially designed equipment, such as curved knives for poultry processors, may help.
According to the California Department of Industrial Relations (1992), almost half of all occupational injuries occurred in the agricultural production area. Musculoskeletal symptoms and injury patterns similar to those in manufacturing are found in agricultural work (Engber, 1993; Sjoflot, 1984). Overall, almost one-quarter of all work-connected injuries in California occurred to the spine, making it the most frequently injured body part. An analysis of ten years of injury data in California's agriculture (AgSafe, 1992) reveals a similar pattern - some 43% of all reported agricultural non-fatal disabling injuries were sprains and strains, of which 40% were back injuries.
Studies of agricultural safety and health (Engberg, 1993; Murphy, 1992) document that agricultural work involves those risk factors associated with musculoskeletal disorders. Despite ongoing changes in the scale of farming operations and types of machinery involved, very little change has occurred in tasks performed by most farm workers, or with those tasks most likely to generate back injuries and CTDs. Field jobs (harvesting, weeding, irrigating, cultural practices, etc.) remain demanding physical tasks, involving stooped postures, lifting and carrying, and repetitive hand work. Meyers, et al., (1996), identified these three priority risk ergonomics factors as of general concern in California agricultural work. Research has shown that many important risk factors can be successfully addressed in agricultural work through using ergonomics principles (Lundqvist, 1992; Lundqvist, et al, 1992; Wick, 1992; Miles and Steinke, 1993; Meyers, et al, 1996).
Ergonomics Lecture at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo
Dr. Jim Meyers, of the AERC here at UC Davis, conducts one of the lectures included in a very practical, hands-on agricultural health and safety course at Cal Poly. Dr. Meyers' lecture includes a discussion of ergonomics in agriculture and a review of check sheets that can be used to identify risk factors in a job. This particular lecture is titled UCD Ergonomics. The course, AE321, is lead by Dr. Richard Cavaletto, faculty member in BioResource and Agricultural Engineering and Director of the Agricultural Safety Institute (web site is under reconstruction) at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo.
Cal/OSHA is California's own Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which is a part of California's Division of Industrial Relations. Cal/OSHA has just submitted an ergonomics standard, and it has been approved into law as of July 3, 1997. The standard is the first of its kind in the nation and has received mixed reactions. It has undergone several revisions; the version first enacted into law can be viewed here. However, the ongoing court challenges and rulings have led Cal/OSHA to develop a page devoted to updating the ergonomics standard issue.
Federal OSHA has recently announced its Final Rule on an ergonomics standard.
Tip Sheets 001-004 in Spanish