n Ergonomics SA : Journal of the Ergonomics Society of South Africa - A preliminary investigation of spinal kinematics during sugar cane harvesting

Volume 20, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1010-2728



The sugar cane industry forms a significant portion of the South African economy, and unlike many other countries the harvesting of sugar cane in South Africa remains manual in nature. The focus of the present study was therefore on the assessment of spinal kinematics (range of motion, velocities and accelerations in all three cardinal planes) during the harvesting process. Eight workers were recruited from the Illovo Esperanza farm in Kwa-zulu Natal as subjects for the study. The experimental protocol was conducted in situ and required subjects to cut the sugar cane using specially modified knives as they would under normal harvesting conditions. The motion performance was quantified using the lumbar motion monitor (LMM), a triaxial electrogoniometer.

Results indicate that the harvesting of sugar cane places excessive demands on the spine. During cutting, subjects were required to maintain the spine in a high degree of flexion throughout the task which also demonstrated significant twisting and lateral bending. Of particular concern were the high lateral velocities (ranging between 50 and 90 m.s-1), as this is a key risk factor in the development of lower back pain. It is evident from these results that new techniques of harvesting sugar cane are essential to reduce the rate of injury within this industry.

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