Practice Good Body Mechanics – Ohio Ag Net
By Dee Jepsen, Leah Schwinn and Laura Akgerman
Spring and summer are busy times for farmers, gardeners and landscapers. On a smaller scale, homeowners can experience the same fatigue that comes with working long hours in the garden. Paying attention to how you do the job can help relieve some aches and pains.
Good body mechanics are essential for reducing your risk of injury and muscle fatigue, and increasing your muscle endurance and productivity. The term body mechanics is a technical term to describe how the body moves in different positions throughout the day. Having good body mechanics – or being concerned with moving your body to the optimal positions it was designed for – helps reduce the risk of injury and muscle fatigue.
The spine is made up of stacked bones that form a natural S-shaped curve when viewed from the side. These curves are designed to absorb shock, maintain balance, allow flexibility in the body, and maintain strength in the joints and muscles around it. These curves are only maintained when the body is in good posture, with the shoulders back, a hollow in the lower back, and the head straight. With this good posture and the spinal curves maintained, the compression is evenly distributed. When the body begins to sag, with the head falling forward, these curves disappear and the body is put in a position to injure itself, risking strain on the muscles surrounding the spine.
Work at appropriate heights
As a general rule, when sitting or standing, work should be done at elbow height
This position prevents the head from leaning too far forward and avoids leaning at the waist, which can flatten the curves of the back. Raise or lower a workbench, garden table, computer monitor, or other workspace to accommodate this position.
When you are seated at a desk or table, adjust the chair to be as close to the work area as possible. Rest your elbows and arms on the chair, desk, or armrest to keep your shoulders relaxed.
- When getting up from a seated position, move to the front of the seat. Stand up straightening your legs when there is room. Avoid leaning forward at the waist. Immediately stretch your back by doing 10 standing backbends.
- Get up and stretch every 30 minutes. Stretching is especially useful after sitting in the tractor or mower seat for an extended period of time.
Avoid bending down during your work.
- You can redesign the job to avoid bending down by attaching long handles to tools.
- You can also work on a stool or a wheelchair. When sitting in a chair that rolls or a seat that swivels, do not twist the waist when you are seated. Instead, turn the whole body.
Practice proper bending and lifting
When bending or lifting, use safe lifting practices that support proper body mechanics. Bend your knees or hips rather than at the waist. And keep a uniform gaze in front of you rather than looking down as you work.
- When lifting, keep the loads between hand level and shoulder level. Avoid elevators from the floor or above shoulder level.
- Put handles on containers where possible.
- Redesign the loads so that they can be lifted close to the body.
- When transporting items over a few feet, it is best to use carts, pallet jacks, or utility carts. Use roller conveyors for bags or boxes of vegetables or fertilizer. This will reduce the amount of lifting.
Reposition your body while you work
Be sure to change positions and give your body “movement breaks” throughout your work day. Try to avoid sitting in the same position for more than 30 minutes.
A good sign that it’s time to move or change your posture is if you feel that your body is getting tired, or if you are slouching from maintaining an upright posture. When you feel your body needs a break, be sure to stretch, take a walk, or do some quick exercises to get your body moving. The best jobs are those that allow workers to do different types of work, from sitting to standing, walking and back.
Dee Jepsen, professor, can be contacted at email@example.com; and Laura Akgerman, Disability Services Coordinator, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Both authors work in the Agricultural Health and Safety Program and the Ohio AgrAbility Program. Leah Schwinn is an occupational therapist and educational consultant for AgrAbility. Additional thanks to Kent McGuire, CFAES Safety Program Coordinator and Danielle Polland, former AgrAbility intern, for their contribution to the content of this article. This column is provided by the Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering Department of OSU.