As a hoof-care professional, you are well aware of the need to stay safe. You stay alert and take precautions while working around horses, perhaps even refusing to work on potentially dangerous ones. If you do a lot of pounding on hot or cold metal, perhaps you make a point of wearing safety glasses and hearing protection.
But are you as aware of, and taking precautions against "invisible" injuries?
As the name implies, invisible injuries aren't obvious. There's no bleeding or bruises and they don't leave visible scars. But that doesn't mean they don't cause pain. They do and they can lay you up for days or weeks at a time, or even end your hoof-care career just as effectively as the rankest horse.
Nothing Shows, But It Hurts
You may be suffering from an invisible injury even as you read this. Do you have a deep backache? Is your elbow throbbing or is it hard to bend your wrist or flex your fingers? If so, you could be suffering from an injury caused by strain or repetitive motion.
A few years ago, American Farriers Journal editors got together with Phyllis King, a professor of occupational therapy and campus ergonomics coordinator at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. At the time, King was overseeing a graduate-level program that often conducted studies into hazards of the workplace. King and her students observed a farrier at work and conducted some tests on posture and the strain involved in various tasks that are involved in trimming and shoeing horses.
To no one's surprise, they concluded that when it comes to the potential for strain and repetitive-motion types of injuries, shoeing horses is just about as bad as it gets.
In our annual November Farrier Product and Services Directory, you can read the results of a recent online survey we conducted on lost-time injuries suffered by farriers. While horses caused the highest number of lost-time injuries, strain or repetitive-motion injuries were a close second. If fact, the results seem to indicate that you are in much more danger from the constant repetitive motion of using your hoof knife than you are from accidentally slashing yourself with its blade.
Guarding Against Strain
That being said, it makes sense to take precautions against being injured by strain or repetitive motion, just as you do to avoid getting kicked or stepped on by a horse, or catch a flying shard of steel in your eye.
This isn't as easy as slipping on a pair of safety glasses. No one has yet discovered an effective way of trimming hooves or shoeing horses, without some serious bending over and picking up of a hoof.
But you can make more uses of hoof stands in your shoeing work. Make a point of being sure your tools are sharp and in good working order. Power tools may cost more, but they can also save you a lot of strain in certain operations, such as rasping and safing shoes.
Build regular rest periods into your day and learn to do stretching and core-building exercises to strengthen your back, shoulders and hips, as well as to increase your flexibility.
Talk with your fellow farriers and hoof-care professionals and ask them to watch you while you work, paying particular attention to your stance and techniques. Are you out of balance while you're under a horse? Does your elbow "wing out" as you shape a shoe with your hammer? These are potential hazards that can be corrected.
One of the points King emphasized in the findings she reported to AFJ, was that when jobs involve the kind of strain scores she and her associates recorded for hoof-care work, it's not so much a matter of whether you'll suffer an injury as when.
That's a sobering thought - and one to keep in mind when you think about safety in your hoof-care work.
Do you take precautions against strain and repetitive-motion injuries in your trimming and shoeing? Please share them with us in the comments section, as well as things you've found effective for relieving the pain of an aching back, wrist or other injuries caused by strain.