Long duration machinery operators experience a range of spinal and joint pain. There has been research undertaken in a variety of occupations, and four factors were found to coincide.
- Prolonged sitting
- Operating in/on a vibrating machine
- Sitting in a bent or rotated position
- Fatigue management
Each factor by itself is detrimental to the human spine, but together they accelerate degenerative changes in the lower spine.
After moving to Esperance and working as a physiotherapists with farmers, it soon became obvious that farming produces a broad range of injuries, some sudden onset and a lot through job repetition.
April 10th 2000, The Minister for WorkCover Victoria, Mr Bob Cameron, released a report indicating that ’farmer’ injury rates were 10 times the previously thought levels as assessed by workers compensation data. This was attributed to farmers being self-employed and not able to access the workers' compensation system. The survey indicated that farmers in the Murray Plains Division of General Practitioners were being injured at a rate of 2 per day.
In 2004 farmers represented 5% of the total workforce yet represented just fewer than 50% of the fatalities in the total workforce, including dangerous professions like police, mining & forestry. The vast majority of these fatalities were tractor-related accidents from Victorian WorkCover data.
To initiate a preventative injury program for farmers, two commonly heard provisos needed to be addressed;
“I don’t know what I should be doing” and “I don’t have the time to do exercise!”
Farmers, like other occupational groups, work in an environment of prolonged sitting. "The data suggest a causal link between back disorders and both driving occupation and whole body vibration... Elevated risks are consistently observed after 5 years of exposure."During seeding and harvest time farmers often cover between 5000 and 15000 acres, often several times. Speeds can vary from 10 to 30 km/h and paddock conditions can be very rough. The roughness is accentuated when towing any tillage or trailed equipment. Hours of work are usually 14-16 hours a day and continue for 4- 6 weeks, at seeding and harvest.
In addition to their prolonged seated positions, the seat is vibrating due to engine function and ground topography.
"The balance of the evidence indicates that...heavy equipment used in mining, tractors, & combines...typically exposes their operators to vibration levels in excess of those recommended by ISO2631.
“Epidemiological studies of the association between back disorders and vehicle operation jobs with vibration exposure, show overwhelming evidence of a relationship that is consistent and strong, increases with increasing exposure ... and is biologically plausible."
While sitting and working tillage equipment the driver is predominately rotated to the right. While operating a harvester the operator is predominately leaning forward, observing the harvester drum under their feet.
"Sustained postures are also associated with back disorders... Experimental studies suggest that sitting and rotated postures serve to increase vibration transmission, suggesting the two factors may interact."
Quotes from April 14th 1999 Whole Body Vibration and Back Disorders among Motor Vehicle Drivers and Heavy Equipment Operators: A review of the scientific evidence.
With the greater usage of GPS, operator concentration and fatigue has become a safety issue. Similar issues have been researched and addressed in other cab-related industries.
WorkSafe Victoria combined with the forest industry in 2002 to produce guidelines on fatigue management for the different operations associated with forestry practice. In the position of 'tree machinery harvester' and staying in the 'medium risk' group, their working schedule would enable 10 -12 hours per shift, access to drinking water and frequent short breaks. As a 'truck driver' in the medium risk group; regular 7-8 hours sleep a night, 3-5 night sleeps a week (rather than day sleeps), total 48 - 72 hours work per week and trip planning to minimise driving outside of daylight hours.
CabChart™ Program Options
After trialling more common means of delivery, it was realised we needed a different tool and CabChart was developed (but not until after several other attempts). CabChart is dynamic and with the changing working conditions we have made alterations. The CabChart is in a strip layout (horizontal for harvester & vertical for tractor) and includes an explanation A4 Sheet.
This concept was also be applied when solving neck pain complaints with crane operators at the Esperance Ports - Sea & Land.
CabChart™ is an adhesive sticker that is placed on the window glass in the cab with pictures guiding the operator to perform specific movements.
A detailed description sheet accompanies the display adhesive, containing the same photographs, but with extra text explaining how to do each exercise correctly, plus additional information about correct posture while sitting & important injury prevention information.
Two CabChart™ program options are available;
Seeding (Tractor/Spraying Operations) and Harvest (Header Operations). Each program comes with its own set of specific exercises tailored for the limited range of postures experienced. These are displayed on the Adhesive Display & the Description Sheet explains how to perform each exercise, ensuring consistent replication by operators.
Performing regular exercises in the cab while sitting hour after hour, can help farmers to alleviate symptoms such as stiff shoulders, achy calves, sore & stiff spines and reduced mental concentration.
This system provides concise, professional information on injury prevention without putting greater demands on farmers’ time.
Both CabChart™ programs are posted throughout Australia using Australia Post.
With CabChart installed in your machinery, regular exercising can be performed in the cab while operating tractors and headers. CabChart provides an easy answer to the challenge of;
“I don’t know what I should be doing?” and “I don’t have the time to do exercises!”
Need More Information?
Contact Esperance Physiotherapy for the latest information about CabChart™.