BestEditors ChoiceSafety

Best Practises: Manual Handling On The Farm

Farming as an occupation is quite physically demanding. A farmer is required to partake in manual handling tasks on the farm on a regular basis. Manual handling includes lifting heavy loads such as pigs, calves, sheep, chemical containers, hay bales and equipment.

It’s not just the sheer weight that can cause injury. The size, shape, how you carry the load, the duration you have to carry it for and how often you have to do the task are significant factors in managing physical activity.

Manual handling accidents and injuries are often caused as a result of poor manual handling techniques. Using excessive force, unusual postures or badly organised working practises is a sure way of injuring yourself on the farm. A common occurrence among Irish farmers are musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs).

Safe Lifting Techniques

  • Assess the load you’re about to carry.
  • Always keep the load close to your body whilst bending your knees rather than your back to pick up a load and lift with your thigh muscles.
  • Reduce the amount of bending, twisting and stretching required by organising your work area in advance.
  • Plan ahead. Consider the safest possible ways of lifting, carrying, holding, lowering, pushing, pulling.

Musculoskeletal Disorders MSDs are injuries and disorders that affect the human body’s movement or musculoskeletal system (i.e. muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, discs, blood vessels, etc.).

Injuries can include sprains or strains, severe back pain, swelling of the hand, wrist, forearm, elbow and shoulder to name but a few. They can also be long-lasting and affect the ability to work over a period of several weeks or more.

A survey of 600 Irish farmers (100 farmers from each of the six main farm enterprise systems in Ireland) found that 56% of farmers had experienced a musculoskeletal injury. The most common types of injury or disorder were related to the back (37%).

Reducing Back Pain & Preventing Injury

  • Ensure any cold muscles are warmed up before partaking in manual handling.Warm up cold muscles thoroughly before engaging in any manual work.
  • Ask your doctor, exercise physiologist, physiotherapist or a trainer for advice on safe stretching techniques to avoid further injury.
  • Use mechanical aids or get help to lift and carry heavy loads whenever possible.
  • Lift loads straight up. Avoid lifting while also twisting.
  • Maintain correct posture.
  • Take frequent breaks or break up repetitive tasks if possible.
  • Exercise regularly to strengthen muscles and ligaments.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight to reduce stress on bones and muscles.
  • Climb down from tractor cabins and other large machinery, rather than jumping, to avoid jolting impacts on joints.
  • Wear appropriate footwear with support to minimise stress on joints and the spine.
  • Keep your muscles strong and fit.

The author: Nick Fitzgerald