DairyNZ, in partnership with ACC, has embarked on a three-year project to identify the causes of sprains and strains on dairy farms and develop practical solutions to reduce these.
"There are two key things we wanted to come out of this project," DairyNZ research engineer Brian Dela Rue says.
"One is having a good understanding of the causes and the impact of injuries, and secondly, we need to get solutions for those out to farmers."
Sprain and strain injuries make up 40 per cent of dairy farm injuries, with the highest period for injuries between August and October.
While Dela Rue says the basic advice about keeping your back straight and knees bent while lifting is important, the project aimed to develop engineering solutions that would aid farm workers who were busy on the farm trying to get jobs done.
As a part of the project, a survey was conducted in 2021 and 2022 of 370 farmers and farm workers to better understand how and when sprains and strains were occurring.
That survey discovered that 25 per cent of injuries were back injuries, resulting in around 1000 claims through ACC for back-related injuries over the last five years.
"About a third of the injuries were related to bending, twisting and reaching, particularly when carrying something.
"Another 12 per cent of injuries were associated with lifting heavy items such as buckets or bags."
Repetitive injuries from cupping cows, for example, were also common, and ankle and knee damage from uneven ground and motorbike injuries were also identified.
"42 per cent of injuries were related to form of slip, trip or fall that came about by working on pugged ground in paddocks, slippery concrete or tripping over hoses in the dairy shed," Dela Rue said.
A series of design thinking workshops were held involving farmers and a range of engineers, health and safety and workplace design specialists to test solutions that would reduce injuries rather than relying on behavioural change.
"We focused on different topics in each of the workshops and then went on to say, which ones do we think will make an impact, and can we start to deliver within our timeframe?"
The result is a series of prototypes that are under development and on trial on farms.
· Easy Entry Calf Trailer
The project identified that collecting calves from the paddock is a high injury risk.
DairyNZ, with QCONZ and Kea trailers, is working on designing, building and testing a trailer with easy-entry gates. The trailer has been trialled on farms over the last two years with promising results.
Features and Benefits:
- A spring-loaded, self-closing door
- High reinforcing bar to prevent stooping when loading calves
- Off-set hinges to allow 180-degree opening for ease of unloading
- Latch function to prevent gate opening during transport
- Reduces bending and lifting when loading calves compared to other trailers.
- Flexible Breast Rail
Heifers and smaller cows often stand forward in the bail, meaning people cupping cows must reach to cup them, which can lead to back and shoulder strains.
To mitigate this, DairyNZ is developing a flexible breast rail concept.
"It's basically an elastic bungee that we set to the right tension to allow the bigger cows to fit in the bail.
"The smaller ones we hope will stand against it, and therefore a bit closer to the cup," Dela Rue explains.
The breast rail will have a vinyl cover to stop cows from getting their heads caught underneath.
- Calf Milk Bucket Trolley
A bucket trolley is being developed to help reduce lifting injuries around calf feeding, with a prototype on display at the National Fieldays being well received by farmers.
"The trolley allows you to slide the milk bucket onto the trolley, and when you lean it back, the bucket stays upright, and you can wheel it off the pen," Dela Rue said.
"We've also added a battery drill operated pump that allows you to just pump the milk from that."
Exosuits are being tested for jobs such as calf pick-up and feeding, and cupping cows.
"The idea is that if you are leaning over, it will transfer some of the load away from your lower back and into stronger muscles in your thighs,” Dela Rue said.
A trial of the exosuits will begin on farms around Canterbury over the calving season to investigate if the exosuits make a difference, are fit for purpose or can be adapted to be fit for purpose.
Sensors will be fitted to the exosuits to measure the difference in fatigue between using and not using the device.
- Calf pen gate
Moving between calf pens with a heavy weight can lead to risks when reaching or climbing over.
A saloon-style gate system to move between pens is being developed, and DairyNZ is working with QCONZ and Gallagher to design and test the concept on farms over spring calving.
by Claire Inkson