December 29th, 2003

Wine Industry Takes On Ergonomics

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Making a simple change in the size of the picking tubs for farm workers in California could mean that bottle of holiday cheer on the dinner table is now a little less risky to harvest. And, according to Dr. Marc Schenker, director of the Western Center for Agriculture Health and Safety at the University of California-Davis, that’s good news for the California wine industry, an industry that regularly struggles with ergonomics.

“If I had a magic wand to reduce agricultural injuries, it would be to deal with repetitive strain trauma and make farm equipment safer,” said Schenker in an article published recently in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. Overall, Schenker said that ergonomics risk factors lead the pack as the primary cause of injuries for agriculture workers.

While performing their daily tasks during a grape harvest, pickers spend the majority of the day reaching, bending, lifting, carrying and grasping the tubs plus attempting to maneuver the tubs to a convenient locations while they pick. The new tubs, with a capacity as little as 10 pounds less than the old tubs, mean workers can lift and carry a lighter load.

“The bottom line is that the harvest is not a sprint but a marathon, and something as simple as lightening the load by 10 pounds makes a big difference. By reducing potential physical stress each day it keeps workers healthier for the long run,” said Clos du Bois vineyard manager Keith Horn in the article. Currently, not all vineyards in California have adopted the smaller tubs, but as workers compensation rates in California continue to rise, the trend towards the smaller tubs is catching on.

In an October 2001 interview, Dr. John A. Miles of California’s Agricultural Ergonomics Research Center (AERC) told Ergoweb that in previous studies, 62 percent of manual grape picking workers experienced persistent pain by the middle of the picking season. However, in two tests where Miles and other researchers at AERC dropped the weight of the average tub from 57 pounds to 46 pounds, only 25 percent of the workers reported persistent pain after using the lighter tubs.

Source: Santa Rosa Press Democrat; Ergonomics TodayTM



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