Musculoskeletal Pain in Ragpickers in a Southern City in Brazil

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Abstract

Background

Ragpickers are informal workers who collect recyclable materials to earn a small wage. Their life and working conditions are extremely precarious. The ergonomic hazards and musculoskeletal pain in a sample of ragpickers in Pelotas, a city in southern Brazil are examined.

Methods

Two comparison groups were available: a matched sample of non-ragpickers from the same poor neighborhoods, and a random sample of the general population of the city. The cross-sectional study gathered data by interview on 990 individuals in 2004. Musculoskeletal pain was assessed using the Standardized Nordic Questionnaire.

Results

Ragpickers reported higher prevalences for most awkward postures and ergonomic exposures compared to neighbors with other demanding manual jobs. The prevalence within the last 12 months of low back pain (LBP), lower extremity pain (LEP), and upper extremity pain (UEP) among ragpickers were 49.2%, 45.1%, and 34.9%, respectively; levels similar to those reported by neighborhood controls. Both ragpickers and non-ragpickers reported considerably higher ergonomic exposures, and more prevalent LBP, than the general population.

Conclusions

Ragpickers experience many occupational hazards and ergonomic stressors. Their overall prevalence of musculoskeletal pain was similar to a comparison group with other physically demanding manual jobs. For LBP, this prevalence was substantially higher (49% vs. 35%) than in the general population.

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