OHS Canada Magazine

Feature

How to prevent health from affecting safety (September 13, 2010)

Manitoba researchers are asking farmers 55 and older to have their say on what ails them.


Researchers want to know what ails older farmers
Researchers want to know what ails older farmers

Manitoba researchers are asking farmers 55 and older to have their say on what ails them.

The study out of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg is looking to gather input on the effects of long-term health conditions among farmers. Researchers want to know how the conditions – both work- and non-work-related – influence work practices, safety behaviours and lifestyles, says Margaret Friesen, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the university’s Department of Occupational Therapy, who is heading up the study.

“Does it slow them down? Do they have to get help? Have they had to change the way they do things?” Dr. Friesen asks. These are the types of questions that she and her team hope to get answered through a survey, available online and in paper form, which is scheduled to run until November 1.

Following receipt of all surveys, Dr. Friesen says researchers plan to conduct in-depth interviews with some of the respondents. “Hopefully that will give us a good picture.”

She has some suspicions about the influence health conditions may be having. “Whenever anybody has a long-term health condition, you adapt so slowly that you don’t notice how many changes you’re making to the way you work,” she says. It is “certainly possible” that some adaptations might actually result in less safe work practices, she adds.

Farmers face a wide range of occupational illnesses and injuries, notes an information bulletin prepared by Dr. Friesen. There may be respiratory diseases caused by agents in soil, grain, pesticides and herbicides; musculoskeletal disorders; skin cancers; and depression.

There is also the physical side of work-related harm, including fractures, spinal cord damage, crush injuries and amputations.

Neil Enns, president of Manitoba Farmers with Disabilities in Elm Creek, Manitoba, can relate, having lost the lower portion of his right arm to an auger in 1995 following a miscommunication with a co-worker. For farmers of all ages, “we have to be cautious and take the time and make sure that we don’t do things hastily,” Enns says.

The study is expected to spawn a journal article, a summary to be shared with agricultural associations and, possibly, a tool kit on working while coping with health conditions. With more than 40 per cent of Canadian farmers being older than 55, the results could prove all the more relevant.

Marcel Hacault, executive director of the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association in Winnipeg, suggests that an improved understanding of limitations among older farmers is needed. Research results might even aid farm equipment manufacturers in their product designs, Hacault says.

Dan Birch is assistant editor of OHS CANADA.