Musculoskeletal and work practice survey of chainsaw users in the New Zealand forest industry
Authors: Mark Boocock, Liz Ashby, Richard Parker
Abstract: Forestry is one of the most dangerous occupations globally, and manual work involving the use of chainsaws present a significant health risk to its workers. Over the last 10 years, there have been 810 chainsaw-related incidents reported in the New Zealand (NZ) forest industry. The aim of this study was to undertake a survey of chainsaw operators in NZ to obtain information on the risks associated chainsaw use, the prevalence of self-reported musculoskeletal complaints, and opinions on the safe use and design of chainsaws and corresponding safety equipment. An anonymised, electronic questionnaire survey was distributed to forest companies by forest sector organisations. The questionnaire was divided into three main components: 1) demographics; 2) self-reported musculoskeletal disorders (a modified version of the Nordic musculoskeletal questionnaire); and 3) chainsaw-related accidents, injuries, and work practices. Descriptive statistics and parametric and non-parametric statistical tests were used to compare differences between frequent (used a chainsaw at least 2 or 3 times per week during the last 2 years) and infrequent chainsaw users. Fifty-seven workers responded to the questionnaire, which was considered a low response rate based on the size of the forest industry in NZ. Approximately 47% of respondents had a BMI of >30, classified as ‘obese’ based on the World Health Organisations BMI classification. Low back pain (51%) was the most frequently reported complaint over the last 12 months, followed by shoulders (36.8%), hands/wrists (33.3%) and knees (31.6%). Approximately 65% of all respondents considered their musculoskeletal symptoms were due to work and 60% felt the injury had restricted their normal work activities to some extent. Frequent chainsaw users did report slightly higher prevalence rates of musculoskeletal complaints across most body parts during the last 12 months. The risk factors considered to add to the physical workload and risk of MSD in chainsaw operators were: “bending over all day”; the repetitive nature of the work; the weight of equipment carried in addition to the chainsaw (e.g. first aid kit, safety chaps, fuel cans, oil, wedges); slips, trips and falls when walking between trees; and limited training opportunities for improving techniques and working postures. The high prevalence of work-related musculoskeletal conditions and the multifaceted nature of risk factors presents unique challenges to improving the health status of NZ forest workers. Interventions should consider a range of individual, physical, psychosocial, and work organisational approaches. Beyond modification to work practices, further consideration should be given to educating and promoting a healthy lifestyle among these workers. Frequent chainsaw users do appear to be at increased risk of musculoskeletal complaints. Some caution is needed when interpreting findings from the survey as the estimated overall response rate was considered low.
Keywords: Musculoskeletal injuries, forestry, chainsaws, accidents, injuries, risk factors
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