There can be few people working in agriculture who haven't either suffered a bad back or know someone who has. As the Health and Safety Executive launches its biggest ever campaign Backs! 2005 this month, Dr. Peter Dodman, HSE's principal inspector for the north east, offers the following simple advice…
Around 80 per cent of people working in farming suffer from back problems at some point. In the worst cases, people are permanently disabled, not necessarily from a single event but often from stresses and strains over a period of time. For many years those in farming simply accepted that this went with the job.
Significant numbers of back injuries also occur in other industries and in an effort to tackle this, HSE is launching its Backs! 2005 campaign on 13 June, aimed at reducing the number of back injuries caused or made worse by work.
Mechanisation in farming has reduced the manual content of the work but much inevitably remains. And it's not just lifting and putting down which can cause a problem, but also pushing, pulling, carrying and supporting objects.
Approach the issue with an open mind and look at the available guidance. Wherever possible, manual handling should be avoided. If it needs to be done, consider how best to reduce the risk. This needn't be a time-consuming or expensive process; as more and more routine jobs are considered it will only leave the occasional or one-off jobs to think about.
Plan your work and working areas to minimise the amount of manual handling you need to do. Perhaps you can provide mechanical assistance or change the size of the load. Look at how and where you store or move objects such as chemical containers, drums, bales etc to avoid twisting and stretching.
Arranging for loads to be handled at waist height and familiarising yourself with safe handling techniques will also help. For those with sheep, consider investing in a sheep turnover crate and a shearing back-aid. Only by looking critically at what you do will you arrive at solutions, many of which will then appear simple and obvious.
Relevant practical advice and further information are on the HSE website at www.hse.gov.uk/msd/index.htm, in HSE's free booklet AS23 "Manual Handling Solutions for Farms" and in the HSE video "Back on the farm: farm lifting solutions". The latter are available from HSE Books, tel. 01787-881165.