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New study hoping to inspire healthier equipment for farmers

A tractor is hooked up to a diagnostic tool to find out how much vibration is being transferred to the driver.

A new study by the University of Iowa is determining how much vibration a given farm machine transfers to the driver's body while working. According to research 9 out of 10 farmers experience back pain during their careers often linked to extended amounts of time spent on the seats of machines.

"Whatever we can do to design these problems out before they become potentially disabling for the farmer that's what we want to do," Nathan Fethke, associate professor for occupational and environmental health at the College of Public Health said.

Their research is a combination of an engineering approach with a focus of reducing health hazards through appropriate machine design. The study examined over 100 machines and 30 percent of them exhibited dangerous levels of vibration after just two hours of operation. Sensors are attached to the vehicles seat and examine in what way it moves.

"We don't want to see our farmers in a position where they just struggle to get out of bed because the pain is so severe,"Fethke said. "Mechanical vibration has been connected to back pain for a long time."

David Wilder helped guide the study and is also instrumental in designing some of the standards used worldwide to limit vibrations transferred to the body. He is a professor at the College of Engineering and focuses on biomedical engineering. One of the main goals of the study is also to use the outcome and data to pass along to manufacturers to then design machines that can serve farmers better and limit the possibility for devastating back injuries.

"We have the opportunity to use this kind of knowledge to help improve national and international standards on human exposure to vibration. If we come up with effective consensus standards, everybody wins," Wilder said. "Human beings are sophisticated machines and it's important we don't overload them."

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