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Study finds most farm machinery meets vibration limits

Farm machine operators in Georgia and elsewhere are exposed to higher levels of whole-body vibrations than are recommended by the European Union and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists, according to a recent study. The study, which was published in the journal Annals of Work Exposures and Health, was conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

For the study, researchers from the University of Iowa placed sensors on the seats and floors of 112 pieces of farm machinery operated by 55 workers and analyzed the vibration levels put out by each machine. The machinery included combines, forklifts, tractors, skid loaders and all-terrain vehicles. They found that almost 30 percent of the machines exposed workers to whole-body vibrations that met the European Union's "action level" within two hours of operation. Meanwhile, within eight hours of operation, 56 percent of all machines tested met the EU's action level. Both the EU and the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists use similar vibration exposure limits for workers, but the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration does not enforce any limit.

Whole-body vibrations can increase a worker's risk for developing back pain, which can become more severe or chronic over time. Of the types of machinery tested, combines put out the least amount of vibration. Meanwhile, heavy utility vehicles and tractors emitted approximately twice as much vibration as combines. According to the authors of the study, workers can help reduce their risk of vibration exposure by making sure the seat suspension systems on vehicles are properly maintained and greased. If a seat becomes worn out, it should be replaced.

Farm workers who suffer vibration-related workplace injuries may be eligible to file for workers' compensation benefits, which cover medical expenses and other costs. An attorney could review a worker's case and prepare a claim on his or her behalf.

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