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Work smarter, not harder!

CHERYL TEVIS 03/16/2012 @ 12:18pm Cheryl has been an editor at Successful Farming since 1979.

Farmers need to adapt strategies for reducing work-related wear and tear and for maintaining safety.

Recognize the man pictured here? Does he remind you of your dad? Your husband? Your brother? Maybe you?

The average age of U.S. farmers is above 57 years and climbing. When you combine this fact with one of the most hazardous U.S. occupations, it shouldn't be surprising that older farmers are disproportionately injured or killed.

Deborah Reed thinks more should be done to assure a healthier and safer workforce. "Farmers are resourceful and inventive, especially when they have a lifetime of farming under their belts," she says. "But older farmers tell me they're reaping the consequences of years of physical abuse from farmwork."

Reed, a professor of nursing at University of Kentucky, has assembled a team of researchers to meet with farmers and their families in Nebraska, Kentucky, New York, Iowa, and Ohio. She plans to use their feedback to identify how farmers adapt as they age, their perceptions of hazards and risks, and how they make work-related decisions. The findings will form the basis of new risk-prevention strategies and resources.

About one third of all U.S. ag-related injuries result from falls from equipment and ladders, and slips or trips from clutter and uneven or slippery surfaces. Falls are an even greater prob­lem for older farmers.

Arthritis, limited vision and hearing, reduced joint flexibility, muscle strength, and mobility are other age-related issues.

"Farmers know their occupation is fraught with risk, and they've made adaptations as they age," Reed says. "Some modifications are as simple as using a sturdy walking stick to ward off livestock or to prevent a fall on uneven ground."

Another adaptation may be a shock-ab­sorbent, ergonomic tractor or combine seat.

"One farmer told me he had so much arthritis in his feet that tractor vibration was painful," she says. "I suggested buying a gel mat that's used by workers who stand a lot. It didn't cost much, but he said it made a lot of difference."

She adds, "Four-wheelers are increas­ingly popular to save steps and stamina." Reed says modifying work is tied to attitudes, such as:

  • Giving yourself permission to do work differently.
  • Slowing down and pacing yourself.
  • Adjusting the schedule for breaks.
  • Using adaptive technology.
  • Carrying a cell phone for emergencies.

Mental stress also is a risk. "The link between stress and injury is documented," she says. "One farmer had a time-share for 30 years before he went with his family to enjoy it. He told me, 'Now I wouldn't miss it. The work still gets done -- maybe better because I'm rested mentally.' "

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