In agriculture, back, neck and limb disorders are the most common types of ill health. Many of the injuries are caused or made worse by poor manual handling practice. They can arise from stresses and strains over a period of time rather than from a single event.
Spare tractor wheels are heavy, awkward loads that are frequently moved, eg when fitting dual wheels or as part of changing between conventional, row crop and low ground pressure sizes. The effort needed to roll the wheel when it is vertical can be deceptively small but, once the wheel starts to lean, it quickly becomes unstable and a major manual handling problem.
The risk of injury is even greater when you have to align wheel studs and can be increased by the ground surface where the wheels are handled. It is tempting for one person to try to do the job alone and often people will leave wheels leaning against a wall when they have finished, making the next move possible but causing unacceptable risks to children.
Use a mechanical wheel handler, either as a free-standing unit or as an attachment on a lift truck. Wheel handlers can lift, carry, rotate and tilt wheels to aid fitting and removal from the tractor. See Figure 1.
Even though most feed and fertiliser is now handled in bulk or big bags that can be moved mechanically, there are still some 40kg and 50kg bags used, eg with seed corn.
Where it is not feasible to change to bulk or big bag systems, eg with some specialist, small-volume fertilisers or on smaller farms with limited mechanisation, considerable amounts of lifting can be required.
Handling materials in 50kg bags into a high hopper, such as on a seed drill or up steps into a loft, involves increased risks. Where there is a poor working surface, eg slippery concrete or freshly cultivated soil, the problems are worse.
Despite many pesticide formulations becoming less bulky, some packs of liquid products delivered onto farms are still difficult to handle, particularly into stores and other buildings. Some containers which provide excellent control of chemical risks through closed transfer technology can cause manual handling problems if you don’t properly plan how you will move them – and use the right equipment, eg for handling and agitation. Larger (eg 200 litre) oil or dairy chemical drums avoid much manual handling but still have to be moved from a delivery lorry to where they will be used.
Handling sheep regularly for routine flock management involves a lot of manual effort. One example is casting adult sheep for foot trimming. The risks arise both from the effort in turning the sheep and then from the awkward posture reaching down to the animal.
As with many risks, avoiding the job or doing it less often is the preferred solution, eg avoid introducing footrot: vaccinate, use a footbath or, where possible, allow access to stony ground. However, where sheep have to be cast, and especially where this involves a group of animals, a turnover crate will reduce the manual handling risks. A turnover crate can also be used in conjunction with a handling system to aid the flow of animals, enable shedding and, with some, present the sheep on an elevated platform to reduce bending when drenching, dagging etc (see Figure 4). A number of different designs are available.
Consider a turnover crate and handling system to:
Shearing is a high-risk job involving the entire adult flock for a short time and requiring substantial manual effort. While contractors shearing many thousands of sheep may be considered at higher risk, often a farmer who is less practised at the job will have a poorer technique and work in less suitable surroundings.
Traditionally, the physical options for reducing the risks during shearing have been limited to the workstation layout. The best practice of presenting sheep to the shearer in a close, small pen and allowing rapid exit of the shorn animal, away from the wrapping point, has been achieved in purpose-designed shearing sheds or mobile shearing trailers. However, these features can be employed at any shearing site.
Manual effort can be further reduced by a shearing back-aid (see Figure 5). Back-aids are widely used in Australia and in other sheep-rearing countries and are available in the UK. The ‘Warrie back-aid’® helps by carrying some of the shearer’s upper body weight while they are bent over the sheep.
The device uses sound ergonomic principles and in a well-designed workplace can make the difference between lifelong back problems and years of skilled shearing.
Many farming systems involve handling hay, silage or straw bales. The most important step is to match the optimum bale type to your available storage and system of use. While silage bales will normally be handled entirely mechanically, others may not.
If you cannot use larger bales, eg if you farm a smaller unit or, as in some parts of the country where the fields, storage facilities and methods of using hay or straw would not support bigger bales, you need to make sure you have controlled the risks properly.
While most handling will be mechanical, these bales sometimes have to be moved by hand, eg in livestock pens.