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Work smarter, not harder!

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.'
"

Tough decisions

Many farmers have trouble evaluating their fitness. "Farmers
rarely retire until health forces them from the field," she says. "They
usually tell me, 'I'll know when I need to quit.' Farmers have to do their own
fitness-for-work exam."

Reed, who grew up on a central Kentucky farm, says family
members often are the first line of defense. "They have to start difficult
conversations," she says. Yet, she's noticed that many families approach
the subject with humor. "It's often about adjusting work rather than
stopping it," she says.

Reed says farmers agree on one thing. "They want to
make sure they don't endanger others with their actions," she says. "The
key to successful work as you age is working smarter, not harder."

Learn more

Deborah Reed: 859/257-9636, dbreed01@uky.edu

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