Farm work spurs health research

Farmers are becoming more like truckers, and facing similar health issues, says a Saskatchewan health researcher.


Catherine Trask is studying musculoskeletal and other agricultural injuries in a $1 million five-year project, which includes $500,000 in federal money.


The assistant professor with the Canadian Centre for Health and Safety in Agriculture at the University of Saskatchewan is being funded as part of the Canada Research Chairs program.


Trask said the funding will explore disorders like back injuries for the first time among agricultural workers.


“Research on how these conditions develop and how we can prevent them will have an impact on the health of workers in Saskatchewan and the rest of Canada,” she said.


She said farming has become increasingly mechanized with less physical labour. 


“Being in a static position, especially during seeding and harvest, leads to back injury because of whole body vibration,” Trask said.


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She will also examine carpal tunnel syndrome and shoulder problems like bursitis, which occur when the same movements are done repetitively. 


The erosion in muscles and joints has become more common as farms have specialized. On a pig farm with 500 or fewer animals, workers exercised a range of motions in caring for livestock. When the operation is scaled up to 5,000 pigs, workers spend more hours doing the same task such as docking pigs’ tails.


Trask said the first part of her project involves mailing a survey to farmers to gauge the scope of the injury problem. Since farmers and their workers are often not eligible for Workers Compensation, there is little research compiled in this area. 


Most of the research to date has been done on sudden accident limb amputations, but back, joint and respiratory injuries occur slowly over years. That’s why Trask will focus her work on adults.


Preliminary results will be presented at the Symposium on Safety and Health in Agricultural and Rural Populations in Saskatoon in October, 2014.

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