Back Safety (Newpaper Article)

  • Stiles, Martha;
  • Domingo, I. V.;
  • Rodriguez, Jenny

The workers think I'm a little too strict about safety. I require them to do back stretching exercises before work each morning. I know they think, "Here comes the old man, we better do those exercises." They laugh at me about the exercises, but I don't mind if it does some good.

- a Fresno Grower

According to the California Department of Industrial Relations, sprains and strains is the leading type of injury suffered by persons working in California agriculture. Injuries counted are "disabling" injuries- those serious enough to require the injured worker or farmer to miss more than a full day of work. Other health and safety experts believe that the actual number of injuries that occur is much higher if the following figures were included: those who receive compensation other than Worker's Compensation, some part-time or temporary workers, those who are unaware of compensation rights, and those who do not want to miss a day of work during a busy season. Most of us tend to take our backs for granted; and then we suddenly take notice when we ache! A healthy back is strong, flexible and pain-free, and it is largely up to us to keep it that way. Many farmworkers suffer from back problems. Long hours of stooping, bending, and lifting make them prone to back pains or injuries. Evidence, however, shows that back problems are related not so much to how physically heavy or light your work is, but to how you do the lifting or bending. There are some simple rules to follow to keep your back pain-free.

For instance:

When lifting (boxes or crates in the field), you should:

  • First decide if you can lift and carry the load safely. If it is too heavy, get help from another person or use a mechanical device such as a cart, wheelbarrow, or forklift.
  • Get your body as close to the load or object as possible; bend your knees and lift with your legs. Lift gradually- slowly, smoothly, without jerking.
  • Turn with your feet and don't twist your back if you have to change directions.
  • Use the same safe techniques when you set the load down; bend your knees while you slowly lower the object.
  • If you have to place or remove objects above shoulder level, stand on a stable footstool or platform.

When working close to the ground or when stooping is necessary (as in pulling weeds or planting), you should:

  • Get down on one or both knees; never stoop or bend from the waist.
  • Wear pads to protect your knees; the cushioning is also good for your back.
  • Stand up and stretch your back muscles occasionally.

When standing for long periods of time (such as in packing houses or canneries), you should:

  • Wear comfortable shoes. Do not wear tight, high-heeled, or platform shoes.
  • Stand with one foot resting higher than the other. Change the position of your feet occasionally.
  • Stand on a comfortable surface such as a piece of carpet, rug, or some other cushioned material.

When driving a tractor or sitting for long periods of time, you should:

  • Adjust the seat so your knees are level with your hips and you can reach the controls comfortably.
  • Sit up straight. Do not slump or slouch over.
  • Support your lower back with a small cushion or rolled-up towel.

Starting work before your muscles are ready is one cause of sprains and strains. You should warm up your muscles before working, just as athletes do. Warm-ups can be a series of stretches with your arms, legs, and back. This wakes up your muscles and increases the flow of blood into them. About ten minutes of warming up before starting work for the day help keep sprains and muscle strains away. There are several back safety resources available. Many are listed in the UCCE Agricultural Personnel Management Program, Catalog of Selected Safety Materials and Resources. Call Steve Sutter, (209) 488-3560 for more information.

This document is for and about farmworker health and safety issues, produced by the Department of Applied Behavioral Sciences, UC Davis Agricultural Health and Safety Center. If you have any stories or experiences you want to share or issues you want to know more about, please write or call Jenny Rodriguez, UCCE, Ag. Bldg., County Civic Center, Visalia, CA 93291-4584; phone no. (209) 733-6491.

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