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New Spanish-Language NIOSH Booklet Shows Ways to Protect Farm Workers From Musculoskeletal Injuries

NIOSH Update:

Contact: Fred Blosser (202) 401-3749
September 2002

Simple, versatile, and effective ways to protect farm workers from back injuries and other musculoskeletal disorders are outlined in a new Spanish-language booklet from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

“Soluciones Simples: Ergonomia Para Trabajadores Agricolas” provides illustrated, easy to read guidelines and tip sheets for Spanish-speaking farm workers, their employers, safety professionals, and others. The document includes good working practices in general for repetitive tasks, as well as tips for many specific tasks and tools. The information is based on case studies, field observations, and other applications in which the approaches have been shown to be successful.

Farm workers get backaches and other pains in the shoulders, arms, and hands more than any other occupational health problem. In California alone, more than 3,000 work-related back injuries are reported each year among farm workers, with estimated annual costs of more than $22 million just in workers’ compensation, and there may be many more similar injuries that go unreported. Of the 1.8 million hired farm workers in the U.S., 75 percent report they read English only a little or not at all, and 84 report that their primary language is Spanish, according to government data.

Among the simple solutions outlined in the publication are these:

  • Using smaller, lighter tubs with hand grips in harvesting grapes can reduce stresses on the back, arms, fingers, and knees significantly. The impact on productivity is negligible; even though smaller tubs hold smaller quantities of grapes, farm workers who used the smaller tubs felt less tired and made up much of the difference by making more trips to the collection site over the course of the working day.
  • In using traditional short-handled, thin-handled rakes for harvesting berries, farm workers can experience back stress from extended stooping, and wrist and hand strain from awkward gripping. The rakes can be modified to add side handles, or a long-handled, stand-up rake can be used instead. At a cost of $300 for a stand-up rake, it would take 17 to 30 working hours for a harvester to pay for the implement, which should be sturdy enough to use for many seasons.
  • Using a bench-mounted power cutter, instead of hand shears, to make cuttings from thick woody plants can reduce general fatigue as well as repetitive stress to the hand, wrist, and arm. Reducing fatigue also may increase productivity over the course of the day.
  • Back stress in washing leafy greens can be reduced by putting batches of greens in mesh bags and immersing the batches in a wash basin, rather than stooping repeatedly over the basin to wash the greens by hand. Productivity increases because more produce can be washed at a time.

Copies of the Spanish-language document, DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No. 2001-111 (Sp2002), are available free from NIOSH by calling toll-free 1-800-35-NIOSH (1-800-356-4674) or from the NIOSH web page at . The English language version, “Simple Solutions: Ergonomics for Farm Workers,” No. 2001-111, published in 2001, is also available.

This NIOSH Update is also available in a Spanish-language version.