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Study finds farm machine vibrations can injure workers' backs

In a NIOSH-funded study, researchers attached seat and floor sensors to 112 pieces of farm machinery, including tractors, combines, forklifts, skid loaders and ATVs, in order to measure their vibration levels. These machines were operated by 55 workers. The study found that many of the machines can negatively affect workers' health through the intensity of the vibrations. Pennsylvania workers may want to know more.

The European Union has a designated "action level" for exposure limit when it comes to whole-body vibrations, beyond which the vibrations can raise workers' risk for more frequent, more severe back pain episodes. Fifty-six percent of the machines in the study met the action level within eight hours of use while nearly 30 percent reached that level after only two hours.

On average, combines saw the lowest vibration levels whereas tractors and heavy utility vehicles measured almost twice as much in terms of vibration than the combines. Researchers believe this is due to the combines' massive weight and to the high quality of their seat suspension systems.

Workers' postures can also affect their chances of developing back pain. Combines, incidentally, allowed for the best trunk postures among workers. Researchers advise operators to ensure that the suspension systems on their machines are regularly inspected, greased and properly adjusted for body weight.

Chronic back pain could be considered a workplace injury. A workers' compensation program may be able to reimburse those who incur an injury or occupational disease for medical expenses, short- or long-term disability leave and a portion of lost wages. Filing the claim is another matter, though, and may meet with opposition from the other side, so victims might want a lawyer by their side. The lawyer may help workers mount an appeal or discuss the pros and cons of a lump sum settlement.

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