Ergonomics and the handling of materials

Author:International Labour Organization
Meetings-MESHA-Final Code-2010-10-0355-1-En.doc/v2 57
9. Ergonomics and the handling of materials
9.1. Introduction
9.1.1. Ergonomic factors affect the health outcomes of agricultural workers. These
the nature of the physical work environment (noise, heat, lighting, thermal comfort),
the agricultural tasks to be performed;
the technology applied to the prescribed tasks (including workplace design, facility
design, and agricultural material handling);
the manner in which tasks are organized (including use of shift work); and
worker characteristics (including demographics, physiology, human error, and
identification and treatment of injured workers).
9.1.2. Agricultural work can span a wide range of tasks from arduous to sedentary,
from stooping, reaching, bending, and carrying out repetitive movements in awkward body
positions to sitting in air-conditioned or heated comfort while operating sophisticated
agricultural equipment. Economic, topographical, technical, gender-based and even socio-
cultural factors may limit mechanization or usage, and where implemented, may introduce
new ergonomic risk resulting from equipment design and vibration. Huge technological
challenges to design and introduction of technology to replace manual labour remain
within many agricultural worksites. There is still extensive reliance on manual labour.
9.2. Hazard description
9.2.1. Routes of exposure Many agricultural work environments are characterized by labour-intensive
practices such as manual seeding (transplanting rice, fresh vegetables, or horticultural
products), crop maintenance (weeding, pruning, grafting, or hand tillage), harvest (hand
picking of fresh fruits and vegetables, copra, or kapok), or post-harvest activities
(inspection, packing, or loading/shipping). Agricultural work may be conducted in hot and/or humid, or cold
environments; both indoors and outdoors (see Chapter 17). Work may be performed on agricultural terrain or within building structures
which, in the absence of appropriate footwear, handrails, and non-slip flooring, may
predispose workers to slips, falls, and off-balance whole-body recovery, thereby causing or
exacerbating the potential for musculoskeletal injury. Visual and acoustic cues and information for workers may be degraded due
to physical characteristics of the work environment, including vibration of visual displays
and machine controls, thereby subjecting workers to deficient task decisions.

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