Farmers as well as back pain can be a common occurrence. It isn’t always easy to determine the root of the problem for back pain, and many believe it is just part of the work. According to National Institutes of Health, lower back problems are among the most frequent musculoskeletal issues for farmers, who suffer from more of these ailments than other people.

Many instances of back discomfort can be traced due to the whole body vibration (WBV) that occurs when the shake of an automobile is transmitted through your body and driver which can damage the circulatory, musculoskeletal and nerve systems.

Other signs include a shaken sensation or out of equilibrium following taking a drive, headaches, muscle cramping and dizziness. They can also be accompanied by an increase in heart rate, and elevated blood pressure.

The measurement of WBV

Nathan Fethke, associate professor of occupational and environmental health at the University of Iowa College of Public Health was the lead researcher in an investigation that looked at 50 farmers’ exposure to WBV when operating various types of farm equipment.

“Exposure to vibration throughout the body is a significant occupational risk reason for back pain and is common for agricultural workers,” the doctor states.

The study put sensors on the seats and floors from more than 100 different pieces of machinery such as tractors, combines, forklifts and skidsteer loaders along with all-terrain cars.

Through comparing the floor and seat sensors of the vehicles, Fethke was able to find out how well the seats safeguarded the driver from machine vibrations.

The study showed that tractors as well as heavy utility vehicles showed the same levels of vibration, but they were twice the amount of combine. Fethke claims the lower vibration levels in combine models are probably due to the combination of their weight as well as the advanced suspension systems that are found in a variety of models. “The seats of the combine were able to reduce by half the amount vibration that was measured on the ground,” he says.

Tractor seats haven’t drastically reduced WBV. Fethke believes this could be due in part to the fact that seats aren’t adjusted to the weight of the user or wear and wear and tear on the suspension.

Vibration is transmitted through floor, the seat and the seat back and is influenced by the type of vehicle and seat design, speed, and the terrain.

acceptable levels

It is important to note that the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has not developed standards for WBV exposure. Fethke claims that the study compares the average levels of vibration to guidelines issued by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists that are comparable to those that are set in the European Union.

These recommendations stipulate a minimum number of hours per day that workers are in contact with WBV. 11.5 hours with a combine 8.5 hours with a road-going vehicle that is heavy, six hours with a tractor five hours of machinery such as bulldozers, and less that 4 hours in an ATV.

However an University of Iowa study showed that 30% of the machines examined reached the EU action level, in which the likelihood of adverse health adverse effects rises after just two hours.

A separate study that was conducted in Sweden pregnant women must be particularly cautious about exposure to WBV. The study found it was true that, even in EU acceptable levels, WBV is associated with a higher risk of premature birth.

What are the options for Farmers Do?

It’s not unusual for farmers to work up to 12 hours a day on the tractor or combine during season of harvest and planting which is why cutting back on the amount of time spent is not a viable option. However, the chance of injury caused by WBV can be decreased.

Fethke recommends that all farmers examine the suspension of their seats to ensure that they’re functioning in a proper manner. They need to be regularly greased and adjusted to suit the needs of each user. If the seat is leaking you should think about replacing it.

He also states that posture can have an impact on the effects of WBV. “It is usually necessary to lean backwards or turn at the sides or in the back of equipment for safety for safety reasons,” he says. “However the bending postures alter the way that your body reacts to the impact of vibration, and could increase the chance of back issues down the road.” Operators must be aware of their posture and stay clear of slouching backwards.

The Great Plains Center for Agricultural Health provides these additional methods to treat the symptoms of WBV:

  • Reduce the speed of your vehicle on difficult terrain.
  • Keep the roads on farm and plug potholes.
  • Regularly take breaks while working with equipment. Make sure your tires are inflated and keep suspension systems in good condition.
  • Utilize a backrest with an lumbar support.
  • Do not lift your arms immediately after prolonged driving.
  • Make recommendations available to employees.

Consult Your Physician

Consult your physician if you have back discomfort or other signs that specifically refer to your experience with vibration. While WBV is a common issue but it’s not always addressed in nursing and medical schools. Amy Kincannon, MSN, RN is a farmer and an assistant Professor of Nursing at the University of Louisiana Monroe Kitty DeGree School of Nursing. She was introduced to WBV through the AgriSafe Nurse Scholar program in January and put the knowledge she gained immediately into action when she was manning a booth at an agricultural fair.

“I inquired of every worker who attended to find out if they’d heard about WBV and no one of them had,” she says. “It was very interesting to be able to instruct the students about something that I had learned just the previous day.”