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Agricultural workers risk injury due to equipment vibrations

Agricultural workers in Virginia and across the country could be at risk of serious occupational injuries due to the equipment used on farms. One study funded by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health found that machine operators were often exposed to potentially harmful levels of vibration after less than a full day of work. The study examined 55 farm workers using 112 pieces of equipment, including combines, tractors, forklifts, all-terrain vehicles and skid loaders. Researchers at the University of Iowa used sensors on the vehicles' seats and floors to measure vibrations and how well the seats could protect workers.

The researchers found that almost 30 percent of equipment reached an "action level" set by the European Union within two hours of operation. This level indicates when the risk of health impacts increases. At the same time, 56 percent of the machinery only met the action level after eight hours of use, the end of a full workday. While the European Union has mandated limits to workers' exposure to full-body vibrations, OSHA does not yet enforce similar standards in the United States.

Workplace safety experts emphasized that vibrations of this type can lead to back pain. Back pain is one of the most common workplace injuries suffered by agricultural workers. Exposure to dangerous levels of vibrations can lead to long-term problems and chronic pain, with spiraling medical bills as a result. The researchers found that combines were less likely to produce dangerous vibrations than other machines, particularly tractors. They attributed this partially to the strong suspension of the seats in these machines.

Someone who has been injured on the job may face costly medical bills and even disabilities. A workers' compensation lawyer can work with an employee to help them pursue compensation for their damages.

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