The link between musculoskeletal disorders (especially those affecting the bones, nerves, joints, muscles, tendons and blood vessels) and manual handling of loads, is nowadays worldwide recognized.
The related disease mainly concerns the alteration of the lumbar spine. Agricultural activities often involve the manual handling of loads and agricultural sector often shows indexes above the warning threshold. Factors such as the mass and size of the object being handled, working posture, the frequency and duration of manual handling can lead to a hazardous handling activity and correspond to the risk of musculoskeletal disorders.
There are several empirical methods for the risk assessment, but each one considers some variables omitting some other variables; so the combined effects due to the interaction of many variables are often underestimated. A risk assessment method taking into account a large number of variables is described in ISO 11228-1 standard. This method is in compliance with criteria laid down by Annex XXXIII of the Italian Legislative Decree n. 81/2008 (transposition of several European Directives including 90/269/EEC about manual handling of loads). The model integrates in a single spreadsheet, several evaluation methodological techniques. These allow the inclusion of multiplying factors, assessing the interaction with more boundary variables, and generating appropriate risk index weighted according to gender and age of those involved in manual handling of loads.
This research was conducted on a sample of 20 farms in central Italy, using the above cited risk assessment method. Moreover, appropriate methodologies were designed by authors to make a quantification of the efficiency and effectiveness made by the procedural and organizational redesign proposal, presenting concretely and economically feasible measures, useful in the short term.
The proposed improvements show a decreasing of risk index of about 59 %. The factor examined, whose absence contributes significantly to increase risk indexes, is the training, that, although present in only 27.3 % of the companies observed, show a risk reduction of approximately 12÷13 %. The measures which determine, in general, a risk reduction refer to the correct procedures for manual handling of loads (correct posture, objects handled with both limbs, objects handled in two or more persons, etc.): they can be easily feasible with a proper training of workers.