Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)


Environmental Health Sciences

Date of Award


Committee Chair or Co-Chairs

Kenneth Silver

Committee Members

Yousif Abulhassan, Ying Li, Sharon Loury, Kurt Maier, Phillip Scheuerman


Farmworkers play an integral role in the production and availability of tomato fruit for consumption. Yet the work activities of farmworkers present risk factors for musculoskeletal disorders. Tasks involving stake pounding, picking, bucket toss, and trellising entail risk factors such as repetitive motions, lifting/carrying of heavy loads, and working in flexed trunk postures. These physically demanding activities are typically associated with musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Presently, quantitative assessments of these jobs and health risks to the workers are rare. Access to the workers who are often migrant and seasonal can pose an impediment to such investigations. This research examines three tasks performed by tomato farmworkers using objective quantitative tools such as electromyography and physical activity monitoring. It also studies the relationship between self-reported and/or clinically diagnosed chronic health conditions among tomato farmworkers in the region, and risks for developing musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace. Finally, it provides models for studying risk factors of migrant farmworkers via cooperation with a migrant health center and the construction of a tomato test plot. The results of the test plot study show that the anterior deltoid and upper trapezius muscles are disproportionately impacted by tomato farm work activity, even though the three tasks studied are of moderate physical intensity. A high prevalence of musculoskeletal pain was found to exist among tomato farmworkers with the age of the worker influencing the presence or absence of chronic and comorbid conditions. Diabetes, obesity and hypertension were studied in relation to musculoskeletal disorders. The studies described in this dissertation lay the groundwork for future studies and may also encourage policy makers to support programs and collaborative partnerships that address the needs of migrant agricultural workers. We recommend longitudinal studies to research the interplay between comorbidities, jobs performed, and musculoskeletal conditions. We also recommend the use of test plots and full-shift evaluations to better characterize the degree of overexertion in tomato industry tasks.

Document Type

Dissertation - embargo


Copyright by the authors.

Available for download on Friday, September 15, 2023