The influence of a back support harness on spinal forces during sheep shearing
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Previous research has classified the occupation of sheep shearing as heavy work where shearers flex their spine and hips for long periods of time, handle awkward loads and expend high amounts of energy. The aim of this research was to investigate the magnitude of spinal forces produced during the shearing phase of the work and to determine whether the use of a commercially available back support harness would reduce these forces. Following discussion on task complexity and risk of back injury with senior shearing instructors, three component tasks of the shearing phase were identified as posing high risk of injury and were prioritized for primary analysis. Although the dragging out of a sheep in preparation for shearing and an unexpected loss of animal control were also identified as being of high risk, technological and instrumentation difficulties precluded their analysis. Twelve experienced shearers were videotaped while shearing with and without the use of a back harness. Surface mounted retro-reflective markers placed on the trunk defined three linked segments: Pelvis, Lumbar and Head, Arms, and Upper Trunk (HAUT). A 3D, link segment, top down, inverse dynamics approach was used to describe the motion and to estimate forces involved during the identified tasks of shearing. The spinal force/time profiles of this sample of shearers demonstrated large compressive and shear forces for all three tasks that are close to the NIOSH and University of Waterloo action limits for compressive and shear forces respectively (McGill 1997, Yingling and McGill 1999, Marras 2000). The use of the back support harness reduced these forces by substantial and statistically significant amounts. This effect was consistent across all three tasks. The results of this study demonstrate the production of high levels of compressive and shear forces within the spine of shearers during the three shearing tasks studied and that the use of a back support harness can substantially reduce these forces. Therefore the use of a back harness may reduce the cumulative load on the spine during shearing thereby moderating damage to the articular structures. However it is not known whether the harness would protect the spine from a sudden or unexpected force.