DOI: 10.3390/su151712839 ISSN:

Seasonal Migrant Workers Perceived Working Conditions and Speculative Opinions on Possible Uptake of Exoskeleton with Respect to Tasks and Environment: A Case Study in Plant Nursery

Rebeca Villanueva-Gómez, Ornwipa Thamsuwan, Ricardo A. Barros-Castro, Lope H. Barrero
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Building and Construction

Seasonal migrant farmworkers are essential to the success of agriculture in Quebec as they provide the labor needed to produce crops and animals. Notwithstanding, these workers are often at risk of occupational health and safety hazards, while only a few interventions have been implemented to improve the situation. Modern engineering interventions like exoskeleton devices have been introduced to reduce the risk of developing musculoskeletal disorders in other industries, but nothing much has been done in agriculture. This paper employed a mixed-method approach to evaluate the effect of environmental conditions and physical activities on farmworkers’ bodies and sensations and explore their speculative opinions about exoskeletons for their tasks. This study took place in a large plant nursery. Data were collected through field observations, written questionnaires, and semi-structured interviews. The analysis showed heat, humidity, cold, and rain affect farmworkers in feeling sore, worn out, tired, weak, and suffocated. The arms and the back were the body parts most affected by the repetitive bending over and carrying the load. Farmworkers’ exoskeleton perceptions were positive, remarking benefits such as making the task easier, improving posture, reducing fatigue, and protecting the body. The barriers that emerged were concerning the exoskeleton weight, being uncomfortable to wear, causing heat, restricting mobility, not allowing flexibility to change tasks, and not allowing space to work in tight workplaces. The study includes strategies to ensure credibility, reliability, and transferability. Future investigations could test exoskeletons on farmworkers and conduct the cost benefits of exoskeletons in agriculture.

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