Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson

Ergonomics for farm workers, gardeners

6/17/2021 by Jon Ebbert, M.D.


Summer is here, and it's time to get in the fields and gardens. To avoid injuries and unwanted trips to your health care provider, take tips from ergonomics. 

Ergonomics is the study of the "best fit" between workers and their job. The goal is to reduce injuries, and increase comfort and safety related to work. Work-related musculoskeletal injuries are caused by repeated gripping, lifting, bending, twisting, kneeling and squatting. These activities are common in farm workers and gardeners. Even activities that are harmless alone, such as stretching out an arm to grasp an object, can put a worker at risk of injury if repeated over time. 

Some general principles can be use to reduce injuries related to farm work and gardening as it relates to hand work and lifting. 

Consider these guidelines for hand work:

  1. Avoid placing needed tools above shoulder height. 
  2. Allow adequate recovery time between repeated activities and allow alternative activities to occur, such as alternating weeding with carrying heavy loads. 
  3. Place items within 17 inches of yourself. 
  4. Sit if possible. 
  5. If you need to stand, use floor mats with workstations at the proper height. 
  6. Have hand tools that are covered with a smooth, slip-resistant material, such as plastic or rubber, with a spring to keep an open position. 
  7. When washing plants, include the use of mesh bags rather than hand-washing to avoid stooping, lifting and repeated gripping. 
  8. Use standardized containers as much as possible to allow for easy stacking. 

Consider these best practices for lifting:

  1. Keep lifts between hand level and shoulder level and avoid lifting from the floor. 
  2. Use handles on containers. 
  3. Use dollies, palate trucks or utility carts. 
  4. Keep bag or box weight below 50 pounds. 
  5. Use lifting tools. 
  6. Lift with your legs. 
  7. Carry smaller loads. While this seems less efficient, it will allow you to avoid injury and needing to stop the work or activity. 

For more safety tips for farm workers, visit The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health website

Happy farming and gardening. 

Jon Ebbert, M.D., is a physician in Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson's Division of Community Internal Medicine. He is chair of Community Internal Medicine's Division of Telehealth and offers virtual visit care across Southeast Minnesota.