USask Researchers Look to Help Farmers Live Pain-Free with the Use of Mechanical Exoskeletons

Up until now, farmers have been suffering in silence.

Catherine Trask (right) and Xiaoke Zeng study farmers’ exposure to body vibrations (Photo: David Stobbe).

Which is why Dr. Catherine Trask (PhD), Canada Research Chair in ergonomics and musculoskeletal health at the University of Saskatchewan), told The Western Producer she is taking on the task of determining the suitability of exoskeleton use in agriculture.

In the article, she speaks about how farmers have high rates of back injuries and, according to Canadian Census of Agriculture, the number of back-related injuries is set to rise as farmers age. She says that exoskeletons – a wearable device that acts as a passive lifting structure – can reduce postural and muscular load while performing manual farm tasks.

“If there was a farmer who was looking to avoid back pain or to avoid a recurrence of back pain, this might be something that could come up on their radar. It’s the kind of thing that could be useful,” Trask said in an interview with The Western Producer.

Similar technology is already being used in manufacturing and heavy industry contexts. While the team are researching the physical benefits of using the exoskeleton in farming, they will also explore experiences, perceptions and potential barriers to using exoskeleton in farming.

Trask and her team are looking for 18 volunteer farmers from central Saskatchewan, both male and female, who are over the age of 18 to participate in the study.

“We’re looking for all kinds of commodities and really trying to get a range of tasks. We’re measuring throughout the 2019 growing season and we’re looking for folks involved in grain production, oilseeds, pulses but also ranching,” she said.

The study will see participants doing a variety of movement-focused daily activities such as shovelling grain or doing equipment repairs while wearing an exoskeleton equipped with wearable sensors that monitor muscle activity.