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Smaller picking tubs reduce back injury risk for einegrape pickers

The Issue

Hand harvest work in winegrape vineyards is physically demanding and exposes workers to ergonomics risks. Back injuries are the most common and most costly. With some 230 back injuries reported annually, the cost to the California vineyard industry is more than $2.3 million per year. In addition to uncalculated worker pain and lost income, these injuries reduce productivity and drive up workers compensation insurance costs.

What Has ANR Done?

UC Cooperative Extension farm advisors, together with a research team led by CE specialist James Meyers and professor emeritus John Miles, reviewed multiple vineyard jobs for ergonomics risk exposures. They worked with three wineries and one vineyard management company, involving more than 200 workers. They found that hand harvest is the most physically demanding job in winegrape vineyard work. When filled, standard-sized tubs weighed an average of 57 pounds. (Some weighed in at more than 80 pounds.) Workers must stoop, grip, lift, carry and dump up to 20 times per hour, besides relocating the tub down the row.

Smaller plastic tubs were evaluated with workers during the 1997–1999 winegrape harvests and ergonomics assessment showed large reductions in risk exposures. Workers fill the small tubs in less time, which means they lift more frequently. They also make more carries per hour to deliver the same tonnage. However, due to the smaller tubs' lighter weight, there was actually a slight decrease in energy demand. The smaller tub does result in a 2.5 percent decrease in worker productivity as measured by pounds of grapes per shift. (This was not noted by either workers or managers, but by the researchers.)

The Payoff

Workers and managers both approve smaller tubs

The smaller picking tubs have resulted in a five-fold reduction in harvest workers' reported pain and symptoms for back injury and other musculoskeletal disorders. Workers are less tired and less likely to be injured using the smaller tubs. Equally important, the workers have accepted the use of the smaller tub. All of the vineyard companies cooperating in the project have permanently adopted the smaller picking tub. The tubs are commercially available and indications of worker preference suggest that they will be disseminated throughout vineyards in Napa and Sonoma counties.


Rhonda Smith, viticulture farm advisor, rhsmith@ucdavis.edu
James Meyers, agricultural environmental health specialist,jmmeyers@uclink4.berkeley.edu