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What is Ergonomics?


Greek ergon, work + nomos, natural law

From the OSHA Ergonomics page

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.

Ergonomics Risk Factors in Agriculture

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.

Ergonomics Risk Factor Checklist – Instructions

Ergonomics Risk Factor Checklist – Form

Ergonomics Risk Factor Checklists in Spanish

Cal/OSHA ergonomics standard

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.


Developing your ergonomics program

    Nearly all suggested ergonomics programs are built on five key elements:

  1. Management commitment and supervision
    • assign responsibility
    • develop a written plan
  2. Worksite analysis (problem recognition)
    • use work records analysis to identify problem areas
    • evaluate jobs in problem areas with checklist
    • focus on a few jobs with more detailed analysis
  3. Injury prevention or control
    • design and implement measures to address the ergonomic hazards identified
    • follow-up to determine the effectiveness of implemented controls
    • conduct periodic reviews
  4. Injury management
    • encourage employees with symptoms of discomfort to come forward
    • arrange for an injury management program accessible by employees
  5. Training and education
    • provide appropriate training and education to management
    • provide training and education to employees who perform jobs with identified risk factors

Ergonomics Programs in Agricultural Operations – a brief guide

    This document has not yet been posted on the web site. It is authored and produced in cooperation with many Center affiliates, with Dr. James M. Meyers being the lead author.

Elements of Ergonomics Programs – A Primer

      The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) operates an 800-number to provide workers, employers, and organizations information about various workplace safety and health concerns. Over the past several years, the volume of NIOSH 800-number calls concerning work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WMSDs) has grown. They are now second only to questions about chemical hazards. WMSD inquiries, exceeding 3,700 in 1996, have come largely from callers associated with small- and medium-sized businesses, which often have limited resources to deal with occupational safety and health issues. This

Primer document

    has been prepared to respond to the needs of this audience. (This paragraph is taken directly from the Foreward of the Primer.)

Ergonomics: Effective Workplace Practices and Programs Conference

      At this NIOSH/OSHA-sponsored conference, over 1,000 attendees shared practical experiences in all aspects of workplace ergonomics programs. Dozens of presenters described real-world efforts aimed at preventing work-related musculoskeletal disorders. Each conference session focused on a specific industry or an important ergonomics program element. The web page includes verbatim transcripts of all the presentations. The

Conference’s table of contents

    lists all of the main presentation topics, each one of which is further broken down by speaker and company/organization. (This paragraph is mostly taken from the conference’s web page.)

AgSafe Coalition for Health and Safety in Agriculture


        is a nonprofit coalition of individuals, groups and organizations with the shared mission of the prevention of injuries, illnesses, and fatalities among those working in agriculture. AgSafe organizes and promotes educational activities, conferences, regional meetings, applied research, and the collection, interpretation and dissemination of agricultural safety information to enhance the effectiviness of the agricultural safety professional. If you work in agriculture and have the responsibility for job health and safety, loss control, or safety education and training, you should be a member of AgSafe coalition. Among its products and services is a bilingual series of training materials posted on the web. The materials include simplistic sketches illustrating the topics. The

Back Injury Prevention

         pages could be particularly interesting. The materials are presented in


       as well. (Most of this paragraph is taken directly from their home page.)

Nursery specific

Vineyard specific

  • Excerpts of project proposals
  • Vineyard Job Descriptions, notes of the typical annual field process
  • Edward Weber, Viticulture Farm Advisor, Cooperative Extension in Napa County, CA
  • Rhonda Smith, Viticulture Farm Advisor, Cooperative Extension in Sonoma County, CA
  • Linda Garcia, Associate Director, Cooperative Extension, Sonoma County, CA, for farmworker community outreach

Orchard specific

  • June 7, 2010
    Podcast: “Harvesting Aids for Reducing Ergonomic Risk Factors in Fruit Orchards”
    Seminar presentation by Victor Duraj for Western Center for Agricultural Health and Safety

Other resources for industry

Tip Sheets

Tip Sheets 001-004 in Spanish


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