Farmworkers harvesting strawberries

Ergonomics & Mechanization

What is ergonomics and how does it relate to agricultural work?

Ergonomics is the study of the design of devices, systems, and physical working conditions to fit the capacities and requirements of the worker. Agricultural work, including farming and harvesting, requires labor-intensive, physical activity using repetitive tasks like bending, cutting, climbing, and carrying heavy loads.

How does this affect the health and safety of agricultural workers?

Poor ergonomics and biomechanics increase the likelihood of workers developing musculoskeletal disorders (i.e., injuries or pain in the joints, muscles, nerves, tendons, neck, and back), such as tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, arthritis, and repetitive strain injuries.

How is WCAHS addressing this issue?

WCAHS researchers are developing ergonomic solutions, tools, and methods to make common tasks less stressful on the body and to provide recommendations to engineers and growers on the optimal balance between productivity and worker health.

As the agricultural workforce ages and becomes limited in numbers, ergonomics, mechanization, and robotics research will help shape the future of farming.

Research projects include:

  • The development of mechanical and robotic strawberry harvest-aids to protect workers from low back disorders, while maintaining picking efficiency.
  • Designing a safer ladder based on optimally spaced rungs and ladder angle to reduce joint stress and falls in agricultural orchard work.
  • Developing guidelines for speed settings of large, multi-person harvest-aid machines and rest breaks for crews.