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Farm machine vibrations linked with worker back pain

New Jersey residents should know that operating farm machinery comes with health risks. A NIOSH-funded study conducted by researchers at the University of Iowa measured the vibration levels of 112 pieces of farm machinery as they were being operated by 55 workers. These machines included combines, tractors, forklifts, skid loaders and ATVs. Floor and seat sensors measured vibrations. The latter monitored how well the seats absorbed the vibrations.

Researchers then compared the vibration levels to the European Union's "action level" for exposure limit regarding whole-body vibrations. It turns out that 56 percent of the machines met that level after eight hours of operation. Nearly 30 percent reached that level after only two hours of operation.

Passing that exposure limit can be a major factor in the development of back pain. Whole-body vibrations may cause more frequent and more severe back pain episodes until the condition becomes chronic. Drivers' body posture also has a role play in back pain. The EU's exposure limit is similar to that set up by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists, but OSHA enforces no such standard.

Combines had the lowest average vibration levels due to their massive weight and a seat suspension system that could reduce up to half the vibrations in the floor. Vibration levels for tractors and heavy utility vehicles were twice that of combines.

Not all worker injuries are the result of a single slip, trip, fall or other incident; some develop conditions through repetitive motions, exposure to hazardous materials or, as the above study shows, exposure to whole-body vibrations. An injured worker can take advantage of the workers' compensation program as long as the employer has workers' comp insurance, but filing a claim is another matter. Victims may want a lawyer to assist them with filing and, if necessary, with an appeal.

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