Short rotation poplar forests are a viable alternative in producing high quality wood for industrial applications. Their success depends on timely and high-quality implementation of a series of operations. Weed control operations are implemented to favor the trees in their competition for soil resources, and cultivation is an option typically used in many European countries. For the moment, a complete mechanization of such operations is virtually impossible, and they still require an intensive use of manual labor. Since information on work difficulty and risks in manual cultivation operations is limited, this study aimed to characterize this job. Evaluation was made in terms of work efficiency, cardiovascular workload, work intensity and postural risks by implementing a time and motion study combined with heart rate measurements, accelerometry and whole-body postural analysis. Work efficiency was particularly low even if the share of effective work time was high (70% of the observation time). Job was characterized as moderate to high intensity, which resulted into a moderate to high cardiovascular strain. While the postural analysis indicated rather small risks, the main problem was found for the back postures assumed during the work. Improvements should aim to extend mechanization, train the workers and appropriately design rest breaks.
Keywords: cardiovascular workload; efficiency; ergonomics; job characterization; manual cultivation; risk of musculoskeletal disorders; work intensity.