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4C Association and ECOM – Coffee bean harvesting project in Nicaragua

One of the highlights for the IEA during the 2009-12 executive was a Lighthouse Project, which demonstrated the value of ergonomics, especially in Industrially Developing Countries (IDCs). Barbara Silverstein brought this project to the IEA’s attention that involved a participatory methodology to improve the design of coffee bean harvesting baskets for workers in Nicaragua. The 4C Association aims at uniting all relevant coffee stakeholders in working toward the improvement of the economic, social and environmental conditions of coffee production and processing to build a thriving, sustainable sector for generations to come.

4C Association and IEA, through the found of Japan Ergonomics Societies (JES) Fund for IDCs, supported this project that was done in collaboration with the University of Washington and the National University of Nicaragua (UNAN-Leon). This project created a prototype harvesting basket that was designed to be more productive and safer by reducing harvesters’ risk of back and shoulder injuries. The second phase of this project, which IEA funded through the HFES Fund for IDCs and ECOM, will focus on validating the design during the 2011-2012 crop seasons and will identify ways of transporting the harvested coffee down mountainous terrain.

The first phase of this study evaluated the impact of coffee harvesting on the musculoskeletal system of 19 coffee harvesters in northern Nicaragua, when using the traditional basket and a prototype bag with waist and shoulder straps. Musculoskeletal symptoms questionnaires, surface electromyography (EMG) measures of trapezius and erector spinae muscle activity, and soliciting worker opinions were used to assess the difference in impact between basket and bag. There were no statistically significant differences between bag and basket for symptoms or muscle load. The greatest EMG ratings and risk were identified for lifting and carrying 60kg plastic bags of coffee cherries on the back and shoulders. Workers reported liking the prototype bag better than the basket, with important suggestions for how to make the bag better.

The IEA wants to show the way of implementing practical ergonomics solutions that can demonstrate the unique contribution of our discipline to simultaneously optimize human well-being and system effectiveness. We believe that this is such an example.

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