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The MedRisk Blog

Preventing Agricultural Injuries

Proper healing following a workplace injury is important for any area of business, but the physical demands, difficult labor and repetitive motion of farm work can make agricultural employees more at risk of injury.

Agricultural work covers a wide range of activities, from planting and processing to picking and harvesting. These tasks can involve heavy machinery, hazardous chemicals, dangerous tools and high heights, all of which may lead to injury.

The Capital Press, a weekly agricultural trade publication for the western U.S., discusses farm-related injuries here. While the article pointed to injury prevention as the most effective means of stabilizing a productive workforce, some injuries are unavoidable. When an injury does occur, the publication advised employers to help their employees get physical therapy.

Physical therapy benefits both employers and employees when it comes to farm-related work injuries because it helps employees heal quickly, properly and regain work skills.

“In our gym, for example,” Juan Lopez, a physical therapist, told the Capital Press, “we incorporate cinder blocks, ladders, shovels and food service trays … Our goal is to help the employer receive back an employee who is empowered to perform, and, in many respects, even better than before the injury.”

Physical therapists like Lopez can work with injured employees to first recover from the injury, whether it was a traumatic machine-related incident or a chronic issue. Then these professionals can ensure that employees are healing properly. Without physical therapy, many people develop scar tissue, muscle atrophy and other conditions associated with improper healing. These can impede full range of motion and comfortable movement, sometimes limiting mobility and work ability.

As part of the recovery process, physical and occupational therapists like Lopez work with injured employees on regaining strength and function in areas that were injured by using tools of the trade such as ladders. This will not just help employees return to work quicker following an injury, but also decreases the likelihood of other chronic injuries. Subsequent injuries may cause further absenteeism down the road, such as when people who break their leg favor the other leg, leading to back and neck issues.

Harvest Hazards

Although physical therapy is a useful tool for the health of both the employee and the company, preventing injuries is the best defense against lost wages, work and productivity. As the harvest season approaches, farm injuries can increase when farmers and workers feel the need to rush against bad weather and early frosts.

Howard Schumaker, M.D., an emergency physician of the Mayo Clinic Health System in Sparta, New York, outlined some of the most common causes of harvest injuries that employers may want to avoid. Injuries can run the gamut from severe and gruesome to mild illnesses, but any can slow productivity in this chaotic time by causing people to miss work. Schumaker called grain augers “one of the most dangerous pieces of farm equipment” because they can cause electrocution and severed limbs. Accidents driving farm equipment, falls from short heights, overexertion, inhalation of grain, debris in the eyes and livestock-related trauma are also common injuries that Schumaker pointed to for harvest season.

There are a variety of ways to avoid these all-too-common injuries. The University of Georgia explained a number of these injuries and how to avoid having your employees injured. Much of it comes down to proper training and education. For example, harvest-only help may not know where to approach a cow from and end up with a kick to the chest or head.

By increasing preventative efforts and assisting employees with getting quality physical therapy for work-related injuries, employers and farmers can ensure a fruitful season.