Dr. Thamsuwan has been awarded a 2-year Postdoctoral Research Fellowship for her project entitled: "Take a load off: an ergonomic evaluation of exoskeletons for Saskatchewan farmers." She will undertake her postdoctoral work at CCHSA in the Ergonomics Lab with the supervision of Drs Catherine Trask and Stephan Milosavljevic.
Back pain is highly prevalent among Saskatchewan farmers, and adversely affects their quality of life and work ability. Prolonged back bending contributes to back pain and is typical of many tasks in agriculture. It may not be possible to eliminate or modify some agricultural work tasks that occur on the ground such as calving, but supportive equipment might be a practical solution.
An exoskeleton is a structure that allows the lower limbs or back to be supported while squatting or bending forward, and could be a solution that helps minimize the load in lower back. Because it can reduce exposure to risk factors, exoskeleton technology may be an appropriate prevention strategy for back pain among farmers. This study will investigate the biomechanics and usability of a prototype exoskeleton for use by farmers during work at ground height. The study will recruit farmers on six Saskatchewan farms. We will use sensors to measure the back and lower limb postures and muscle activities of twelve farmworkers undertaking ground-level tasks, both with and without a prototype exoskeleton. We will also conduct a survey on their experience with the exoskeleton.
The result of this study will enable us to better understand how an exoskeleton might assist farmers working at ground level. We will provide these insights to the exoskeleton designers with regard to worker movement profiles and any limitations for the use of the device. This study will support intervention design to improve the health, quality of life, and productivity of Saskatchewan farmers and workers with similar ergonomic risks.