Tackling shearer injury rates

Wearable technology for shearer injury prevention

Wool
Back-breaking: Shearers spend hours every day with their backs in a flexed, bent over position. Research between the University of Melbourne and AWI is looking at how they can help shearers have better quality of life outside of the shed.

Back-breaking: Shearers spend hours every day with their backs in a flexed, bent over position. Research between the University of Melbourne and AWI is looking at how they can help shearers have better quality of life outside of the shed.

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Wearable technology for shearer injury prevention

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Shearing is one of the most important trades in Australia's wool industry, yet recent figures from Work Cover show it has six times higher rate of injury than other agricultural industries.

Dr Jane Littlejohn, Australian Wool Innovation's (AWI) general manager of research, knows shearers face a physically demanding job, often spending six hours a day with their backs in a flexed, bent-over position.

"They have a huge amount of physical tension in their body, not only when they are holding the sheep, but when they are catching the sheep, flipping it and dragging it to their shearing stand," Ms Littlejohn said.

"They are working with a living animal which will naturally struggle and or do something unpredictable, because that is what animals do."

AWI, in partnership with the University of Melbourne, is conducting research into the use of wearable technology to assist in mitigating injuries to sheep shearers.

This research will be done using wearable sensing technology with the sensors allowing for a high degree of maneuverability required by the task of shearing with the sensors capturing the muscle activities of the shearer's body.

The UOM hopes to develop a device that measures muscle fatigue and therefore preempts what is the best rest time.

Latest statistics from Work Cover show the number of claims for shearing, annually, is about 200 since the year 2000, but the value of those claims have tripled.

Statistics show since 2000, 40pc of injuries were related to stress while handing objects (sheep) or lifting or repeated movements.

Ms Littlejohn said AWI wanted to address the issues shearers faced and reduce the insurance costs for growers.

"This demonstrates it is about the shearers' interaction with the sheep or the way they are gripping it or moving the sheep," Ms Littlejohn said.

So what can be put on a shearer to help with the problem?

Ms Littlejohn said it's about adapting existing technology and using good base data - and that is where the UOM comes in.

"The UOM already have background studies looking at electromyography graphs that can measure muscle fatigue," she said.

"They can see an opportunity if there were longer rest periods the quick acting muscles that respond to quick movements will be less fatigued therefore will recover more.

"The short breaks that shearers have are not allowing the fast acting muscles to recover properly therefore they are putting more reliance on their slow acting, high force muscles to respond if there is a problem..."

Essentially, in the human body, there are two different muscle groups.

But in shearers the fast acting muscles are fatiguing quickly, and these are the muscles they need - the high responsive muscle groups when their body is challenged by something different or a change (sheep).

UOM will measure the electromyography levels which assess the power in the muscle and devise an alert system.

"It may be that the normal routine in the shed has to be changed with shearers really not stopping properly until smoko," Ms Littlejohn said.

The research is also assessing how shearers change their posture to accommodate a fatigued muscle by placing motion capture dots on the body of the shearers.

"They are looking at wearing something that assists the shearer to achieve the correct posture," he said.

The story Tackling shearer injury rates first appeared on Farm Online.

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