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May 2012

West Virginia

West Virginia AgrAbility sponsored a two day training for occupational therapists, physical therapists, and vocational rehabilitation counselors. The goal of the training was to increase these professionals' awareness about farming as viable employment; the physical effects that farm-related labor has on the body; and effective interventions for physical rehabilitation and workplace modifications that sustain farmers in successful on-farm employment. The training, Rural Rehabilitation: Agriculture Assessment and Accommodation, was held at the Jackson County Extension office outside of Ripley on April 17-18.

The training consisted of two parts: classroom discussion and a hands-on farm assessment at a local cow/calf and hay farm. Classroom discussion explored the pillars of farm culture, farm safety hazards, and typical work demands of farming operations. A large portion of the two day training was devoted to discussing physical rehabilitation interventions that complement farmers' desires to return to active farming. In addition, some common as well as creative farm-specific workplace accommodations and modifications that have been used to maintain farmers' abilities to farm were presented. Many 'lessons learned' were shared from past experiences regarding the success rates of various interventions. This discussion moved onto the topic of secondary injuries. (A secondary injury is an injury caused by compensating for a disabling condition. For example, you might injure your 'good' knee because you have favored it for so long over your 'bad' knee.) Central to this discussion was ergonomics and how the right accommodations, especially occupation-specific, can go a long way in preventing unintended secondary injuries.

On the second day of the training, attendees visited the local Clendenin Farm to feel first-hand the body mechanics involved in farm labor and assess farm safety hazards. Attendees had the chance to handle different farming equipment, for example, hooking and unhooking tractor attachments to the power-take-off shaft (PTO). They also tried climbing on and off a tractor and skid steer (Bobcat). "Not as easy as getting in and out of your car" commented one attendee. Attendees were introduced to the different equipment and tools specific to this farmer's operation. Tests measuring force, noise volume, and weight were performed to accurately assess the physical effects that farm chores and equipment use have on the body. Attendees then applied their hands-on experiences to case studies that asked for alternative ways to perform chores and set up workplaces. The case studies also asked attendees to think about how equipment could be modified and what other accommodations could be made around this particular farm to fit several different post injury scenarios.

This is the first Rural Rehabilitation training that has been offered since September 2009. If you are a healthcare provider or employment councilor interested in this training, please let us know by calling 800-841-8436. To learn more about AgrAbility's services, visit or call 800-841-8436.

Submitted by Mary Slabinski-Schmidt