Ergonomic risks and musculoskeletal disorders in production agriculture: Recommendations for effective research to practice

Steven R. Kirkhorn, Giulia Earle-Richardson, R. J. Banks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

105 Scopus citations


Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are increasingly recognized as a significant hazard of agricultural occupation. In agricultural jobs with significant physical labor, MSDs are typically the most frequently reported injury. Although not as lethal as tractor roll-overs, MSDs can result in disability, lost work time, and increased production costs. MSDs increase production costs as a result of worker absence, medical and insurance costs, decreased work capacity, and loss of employees to turnover and competition from other less physically demanding industries. This paper will provide an overview of what is currently known about MSDs in agriculture, including high-risk commodities, tasks and work practices, and the related regulatory factors and workers' compensation costs. As agricultural production practices evolve, the types of MSDs also change, as do ergonomic risk factors. One example is the previous higher rates of knee and hip arthritis identified in farmers in stanchion dairies evolving into upper extremity tendonitis, arthritis, and carpal tunnel syndrome now found in milking technicians in dairy milking parlors. This paper summarizes the presentation, "Musculoskeletal Disorders in Labor-Intensive Operations," at the Agricultural Safety and Health Council of America/ National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health conference, "Be Safe, Be Profitable: Protecting Workers in Agriculture," January 27-28, 2010, Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas. The primary focus of the paper is to address current research on ergonomic solutions for MSDs in agriculture. These include improved tools, carts or equipment, as well as work practices. One of the key challenges in this area pertains to measurement, due to the fact that musculoskeletal strain is a chronic condition that can come and go, with self-reported pain as its only indicator. Alternative measurement methods will be discussed. Finally, the implementation of research into practice is reviewed, with an emphasis on best practices that have been demonstrated to be effective in the agricultural setting, based on worker acceptance and comfort, improved productivity, and decreased MSDs. The paper will provide an overview for agricultural stakeholders as to the current science and practice of ergonomics in agriculture.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)281-299
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of agromedicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Ergonomics
  • Musculoskeletal disorders
  • Occupational illnesses
  • Occupational injuries
  • Production agriculture
  • Translational research
  • Workers' compensation


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