Don’t let aging put you down
It is a naturally occurring process that has important implications for agricultural safety and health.
lthough many senior farmers and farm workers make some allowances for age-related
reductions in physical strength, speed, agility, sight and hearing, they can no longer handle some routine work tasks. Injury data and anecdotal evidence suggest that senior farmers become more susceptible to work-related injuries as they move into their 60s. Age-related sensory and physical impairments occur among senior farm operators at various rates. Eyesight, hearing, balance, muscle strength, and reaction time may remain good for some individuals who are well beyond age 65, while becoming significantly poorer in others.
As a person ages, there is a gradual decline in the ability of the eye to detect normal environmental stimuli. Because visual stimuli create awareness and guide information processing and reactions, impaired eyesight increases risk for senior farmers.
The ability to interact safely with the farm environment is highly dependent on the ability to see objects clearly at different distances, distinguish colors, quickly adapt to changing light conditions, and focus both eyes on an object.
Generally, to see objects as clearly as they did when they were age 20, many 45-year-olds need four times as much light. By age 60, the amount of light required to see clearly is double that needed by 45-year-olds.
Older individuals routinely work in situations with inadequate lighting. They may operate farm machinery on overcast days and at dusk or at night. They may work inside darkened
haymows and grain storage, and climb and descend stairs in dimly lit buildings.
Another change associated with aging is hearing loss. All people eventually suffer some hearing loss as a result of aging, ear disease, and exposure to loud noises. In addition to normal hearing loss, studies suggest that farm workers of all ages have higher levels of noise- induced hearing loss than the general population. Such losses result from excessive exposure to loud noise from tractors, field and farmstead machinery, animals, and other sources. Senior farmers who have difficulty hearing words or sounds may not be able to detect warning signals, such as the sounding of an automobile horn, the approach of a fast-moving animal, or the warning yell of a co-worker. Hearing loss in each of these instances may lead directly to a fatality.
Sense of Balance
An individual’s sense of balance is controlled by specialized structures (the vestibular system) located in the inner ear.
The structures provide information about the position of the head and also sense the speed and direction of body movements. With aging, the vestibular system becomes less effective in sensing body position and movement, thereby increasing the potential risk of falls for older persons.
A vestibular system whose function has been impaired may also result in the sensation of dizziness in some individuals, again putting older persons at risk for falls.
Some situations in which the loss of balance and a feeling of dizziness increase the risk of injury include: • Driving and other tasks where a feeling of dizziness may affect
20 British Columbia Berry Grower • Summer 2015
• Walking across an uneven surface such as hay in a haymow, or moving about in a small fishing boat. • Dizziness or a loss of balance around tractors and farm machinery poses a particularly serious safety risk of seniors falling into moving or unguarded parts of the equipment.
Muscular capability Flexibility in the joints of the shoulders, arms and legs; adequate muscle strength; and good posture also are important functional criteria for senior farm worker's safety.
The process of aging causes collagen, the main supportive protein in the skin, tendons, joint cartilage, and connective tissues, to become irregular in shape. The irregularly shaped collagen may reduce spine flexibility and create pain and discomfort in many working situations, such as:
• The manipulation of tractor and machinery controls.
• Lifting, carrying, and loading objects.
• Mounting and dismounting machinery; and climbing up and down stairs.
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