From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Farmers Could Benefit from an Ergonomics/Safety Program

A recently published study reported that 93,550 Finnish farmers sustained 5,507 compensable occupational injuries during 2002.  This converts to 5.9 injuries/100 person-years which is twice the rate within all Finnish industries (2.8 injuries/100 person-years).  Cause categories of the top 10 average claims costs were:

  1. Motor vehicles
  2. Stairs, attached ladders
  3. Scaffoldings, loose ladders
  4. Trailers, wagons
  5. Floors, walkways, steps, doorsills
  6. Other structures, obstacles
  7. Augers, mills, grain handling equipment
  8. Horses
  9. Combines, harvesters
  10. Tractor steps

Risk factors strongly associated with serious injuries included:

  • Age: farmers 50-59 years of age sustained nearly twice the serious injury rate of those 19-29 years of age
  • Income: farmers who received €15,000 or more experienced almost five times the serious injury rate of those who received up to €4,999
  • Production Activity: horse production was related to a serious injury rate over three times greater than cereal production (reference), while goat production came in at nearly three times the reference rate

Serious injury, which comprised 21 percent of all claims, was defined as:

  • A claims cost equal to or greater than €2000
  • A claim lost time equal to or greater than 30 days

The Bottom Line – How This Applies To Ergonomists

Farming is a hazardous profession with twice the injury rate of industry. 

The underlying causes of the most expensive farmer claims frequently have ergonomic and safety concerns.  Although beyond the study’s scope, it is not uncommon to find basic ergonomic/safety issues with nine of the top 10 sources of serious injuries.  The authors point out that, among other issues, cost-effective prevention efforts should be focused on motor vehicle incidents, falls from elevation and slips/trips/falls.

If performing an analysis for a farming operation, this paper can point out key features to look for and problems to anticipate.

This study may have produced even further evidence of the value of ergonomics/safety relative to farming tasks if more low back and cumulative trauma disorders were included  (explained under Study Characteristics).

Other Key Points 

Risk factors associated with injury included:

  • Age:  those 40 and older – almost a linear relationship 
  • Gender: being male
  • Language: speaking Finnish versus Swedish
  • Income: higher income
  • Residence: living on the farm
  • Ownership status: not being an owner
  • Field size: 20 or more hectares
  • Production Activity: goats, horses, feeder pigs, dairy, greenhouse, other bovine, other pigs, eggs
  • Presence of: bovines, poultry, sheep, and horses

During the study year, 493 workers filed more than one injury claim.   One farmer filed seven claims.

Study Characteristics

Data was taken from the Finnish national agricultural statistics service and the Finnish Farmers Social Insurance Institution.  Workers’ compensation insurance coverage is required for farmers who have at least five hectares of farmland – this means nearly all Finnish farmers were included in this study.

An occupational injury was defined as a sudden unexpected forceful event due to an external cause that occurred during the course of performing work tasks and created tissue damage.  Occupational diseases were not included in this study but 302 occurred during the study year.  Also, specific illnesses defined by statue exposure (those disorders generated by an exposure duration of one to a several days – i.e., cumulative trauma and specific low back pain) were not included in this analysis but had an incidence of 168 claims.  

This position paper can be acquired at:

Article Title: Risk Factors for Serious Injury in Finnish Agriculture

Publication: American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 52:419-428, 2009

Authors: R H Rautiainen, J Ledolter, K J Donham, R L Ohsfeldt, and C Zwerling 

This article originally appeared in The Ergonomics Report™ on 2009-05-20.