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College of Public Health

Doctoral Student is funded to study Tomato Farmworker Ergonomics

Mercy AulaMercy Aula, a doctoral student in the Environmental Health department has been awarded a pilot grant to study the ergonomic risks to tomato farmworkers in East Tennessee. The study, titled “Evaluation of Tomato Worker Ergonomics using Electromyography,” will evaluate various tasks performed by migrant tomato farmworkers and quantify the muscular load and fatigue resulting from such exposures.

“Before now, we relied on semi-quantitative measures to evaluate ergonomic risks of this population.” Aula said. “Now we plan on utilizing a more rigorous approach to assess risks factor and to determine appropriate interventions,” she added. The project will collaborate with Rural Medical Services, and the tasks will be simulated at the ETSU’s Valleybrook research facility.

The grant, totaling $11,950, was awarded by the University of Kentucky’s Southeast Center for Agricultural Health and Injury Prevention, which is funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

“We think EMG measurements of muscle activity and fatigue lie directly in the causal pathway,” explained Dr. Ken Silver, Associate Professor of Environmental Health, who is collaborating with Ms. Aula.  “It starts with repetitive, forceful work in awkward postures, leading to some of the musculoskeletal conditions that are so common in this group of workers,” he said.  “Assembling scientific evidence with our community partners should speed up the development of ergonomic interventions to make these jobs safer and healthier.”

Spanish translation provided by ETSU’s Language and Culture Resource Center.

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