Landscapers perform a wide variety of tasks from mowing lawns and pruning bushes to weeding, planting, tree trimming, and irrigation work. Many of these tasks require awkward postures, forceful exertions, repeated movements, and exposures to heat, cold, whole body vibration and hand-arm vibration—all risk factors for developing musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). The following are a few tips for reducing some of these risks.
One of the most common awkward postures in landscaping tasks is forward bending. Bending forward for long periods of time is a significant risk factor for back disorders. Even if no weight is being handled, the weight of the torso must be supported by the muscles of the back, which puts a large amount of strain on the spine and surrounding soft tissues.
- Use long-handled tools whenever possible to reduce the effects of forward flexion and improve leverage.
- Kneel on one or both knees when long handled tools cannot be used. Wear kneepads, such as those designed to fit in work pants, or use a kneeling pad to reduce contact stress at the knees.
- When possible, raise the height of work, such as with tool sharpening or assembly tasks. Instead of working at ground level, use a portable work bench or lower a tailgate when you need an elevated working surface.
- When working at low levels for extended periods of time, sit on an overturned bucket rather than stooping.
Lifting and Carrying
Landscapers frequently have to load and unload heavy equipment, such as mowers and burlap sacks stuffed with lawn clippings and other debris, which often weighs up to 80-lbs when full. Heavy lifting, lowering, and carrying is associated with an increased risk of back and shoulder disorders.
- Provide ramps on trucks and trailers to reduce the need to lift and lower.
- Ensure that two people are available to assist when it is necessary to lift heavy materials.
- Move vehicles as close as possible to material in order to reduce the amount of carrying required.
- Use trash containers with wheels to reduce the amount of lifting required. This also provides a method of transporting tools without carrying them.
- Provide workers with many smaller burlap squares so that the weight of each sack is reduced.
- Train workers on good-lifting techniques but don’t rely solely on good techniques to reduce injuries.
Reaching overhead, or with arms extended, can cause stress to the shoulders and back, and if sustained, often results in prolonged neck extension to view the work.
- Move closer to the work or reposition ladders to reduce the need to reach.
- Use longer handled tools to access higher areas, such as hedges and branches.
- Lower the truck’s tailgate versus lifting over it.