Extent of Musculoskeletal Disorders in Agriculture

According to the 2001 United States Bureau of Labor Statistics Annual Report, MSDs accounted for 522,528 (34%) of 1,537,567 nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses involving lost time. In agriculture, forestry, and fishing, MSDs accounted for 8,733 incidents (22%) out of 40,153 nonfatal occupational injuries resulting in lost work time. Presumably, the actual numbers are higher in agriculture than reported as family farms are excluded from occupational statistics, and agricultural injuries are commonly considered to be underreported in agricultural operations, even in farms with 11 or more employees where reporting is mandatory. In 1997, the median time away from work due to overexertion injuries was 6 to 7 days. The median time off work as a result of injuries or illnesses due to repetitive motion in agriculture was 17 days (4,6).

The U.S. Department of Labor National Agricultural Workers Survey reported that 11% of workers complain of musculoskeletal pain or discomfort during their first year of work and 19% of workers with 10 or more years of farm work make such complaints. The percentage reporting joint or muscle pain was highest in those working in multiple crops (20%) and lowest in horticulture (11%). The reported rate for tendonitis in the agriculture, forestry, and fishing industry in 2001 was 1.3 per 10,000 workers compared to 1.6 per 10,000 workers in all private sector workers. The reported rate for carpal tunnel syndrome was 1.1 per 10,000 workers in agriculture, forestry, and fishing, lower than the rate of 3.0 per 10,000 for all private sector workers. Farmers are among the civilian occupations with the highest risk for hand-wrist arthritis with odds ratios (OR) of 2.71 (95% confidence interval

[CI], 1.27-5.36) by farmers, forestry, and fisheries occupation and OR of 3.6 (95% CI; 1.87-6.93) in the agricultural, forestry, and fisheries industry sector. A prevalence of 28% of hand and wrist pain and an OR of 1.72 (95% CI 1.34-2.21) was reported in a survey of New York farmers. The landscape and horticulture industry in Washington State is in the top 12 industries with the highest rates of musculoskeletal disorders in a Washington State-based review of the compensable workers' compensation cases from 1991 to 1999

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