by James J. Carrabba, Jr., The New York Center for Agricultural Medicine & Health – NYCAMH
Anyone who spends a lot of time pruning in orchards should be concerned with preventing repetitive motion injuries. Repetitive motion injuries (RMI’s) can result from repeatedly performing a motion or task without giving the involved body part sufficient time to rest and recover from the activity. Performing the same motions with your hands for hours on end, as when pruning in the orchard, can lead to RMI’s. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is the most common RMI that occurs, but orchard workers can also be plagued by tendonitis (tennis elbow), flexor tenosynovitis (trigger finger), thoracic outlet compression syndrome (compression of the brachial plexus), and muscle damage. Pain, numbness, and tingling in the arms, wrists and elbows are symptoms of these problems. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that RMI’s account for 60 percent of all workplace injuries. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that one-third of all workers’ compensation claims are from RMI’s.
Rotating the tasks performed is a good method to help prevent RMI’s. If you are switching between a chainsaw, a hand saw, or hand pruners throughout the day while pruning, you are probably creating enough variation to your physical motions to prevent injury. Varying activities and motions within those activities will help reduce strain. It is important to take frequent rests from repetitive motions and use correct posture with all tasks. Whenever performing repetitive tasks, you should stop at the first sign of pain, take a break and readjust the task you are performing. Keep your wrists as close to the neutral position as possible. This means that your wrists are in a slightly upward bent position which places the least amount of strain on the wrist. Avoid reaching over your head when pruning. Use electronic or pneumatic pruning tools if possible to reduce the chance of RMI injuries.
You should select tools that are ergonomically designed. Most of the companies that manufacture pruning tools have designed tools that are ergonomically improved.
You should select pruning tools that have the following features:
• Lightweight as possible, aluminum, plastic, or composite are best
• Fits your hands well – ergonomic pruners come in different hand sizes and some are made for left or right hands
• Have larger, softer or padded handles
• Have bent handles that keep your wrist in the neutral position
• Handles molded with indentations for individual fingers and/or have indentations that cradle thumbs
• Loppers with bumpers between the handles to absorb pruning impact
• Pruners and loppers that are gear or ratchet driven
• Can be used by either hand – this will allow you to rest one hand while the other hand continues to work, some tools are designed specifically for your left or right hand but these tools will not be able to be used by both hand
• Chainsaws with angled handles to minimize wrist curling
• Power tools with anti-vibration systems that keep hand held parts away from the engine and moving part vibrations
It is important to note that RMI’s can lead to disability. Reducing the risks of RMI’s will save your business money by reducing time lost to injury and by avoiding medical costs. Ergonomic tools that fit your hands or body will make you more productive. Also, it is important that pruning tools are kept sharp to reduce stress on the body.
If you would like further information on orchard pruning ergonomics, please give us a call. If you would like to schedule a farm safety survey or on-farm safety training session, please contact me at 800-343-7527, ext 2216 or e-mail me at Some of the safety training topics we typically cover for orchards include: ladder safety, safe lifting & carrying, Worker Protection Standard, forklift safety, tractor safety, processing line safety, and personal hygiene. NYCAMH, a program of Bassett Healthcare Network, is enhancing agricultural and rural health by preventing and treating occupational injury and illness. This information was adapted from the article, “Is Your Pruning Ergonomically Correct?” by Bonnie Lee Appleton, which appeared in the August 2004 edition of Tree Care Industry.