• Patrick Dawkins

Researcher Needs Beekeepers to Help Her Help Their Health

Jane Pierce wants to help beekeepers. She wants to help them improve their physical health, potentially their mental health too, and with it their financial wellbeing. In return? “I just want my PhD,” she says. She will need beekeepers to step up though, requiring at least 200 to complete a questionnaire on their working habits. We talk to the Hawke’s Bay occupational physiotherapist, and doctoral student, to find out what her study involves and how she aims to fill a gaping hole in our understanding of beekeeping’s impact on beekeeper’s health.

If you work in a certain industry, you needn’t take it for granted that you are going to end up with a specific injury, Jane Pierce believes.

Back injuries are anecdotally said to be a common complaint of beekeepers but, with the help of beekeepers, PhD researcher Jane Pierce plans to find out more about beekeeping musculoskeletal disorders.

“You shouldn't expect that, if you're a nurse then you're going to have a bad back, or if you're a miner you're going to end up with bad lungs,” Pierce says.

“For beekeepers their health concerns are less well known, but failing back health and carpal tunnel syndrome are anecdotally mentioned.”

The Auckland University of Technology PhD student is on a mission to gain a better understanding of the psychosocial influences on beekeepers and the resulting health impacts. As it stands, there is very little research in this area. Globally agriculture is one of the top five most hazardous industries with high rates of musculoskeletal disorders, especially for highly physical roles, but drilling down into beekeeping activities and disorders is Pierce’s aim.

“Musculoskeletal disorders will hit you hardest in your back pocket,” she warns beekeepers.

“Pain and disability reduce physical capacity for work and interferes with mood and thought processes, leading to reduced productivity and a higher chance of making mistakes. Additionally, if pain or muscular injury is not managed it can lead to chronic problems. Chronic pain and disability are associated with reduced earnings and contribute to early retirement, but not with a honey pot of money.”

Therefore, she hopes at least 200 commercial beekeepers (those with more than 250 hives, or who are full-time employees) will be motivated to complete her questionnaire on “tasks and work as a beekeeper and their musculoskeletal health”. Following that, her research will involve observing about 20 beekeepers at work, then a shorter questionnaire a year further down the line.

Her hypothesis is that psychosocial influences could be impacting on agricultural workers, including beekeepers, contributing to their increased prevalence of musculoskeletal disorders.

“Psychosocial pressures are not necessarily mental health issues, but what I term ‘mind noise’. So, they're the things that you're worrying about, and that detracts from your concentration. That then becomes a psychosocial factor, because it's occupying what your thoughts are. Not all of them, but it's there,” Pierce explains.

The Hawke’s Bay-based student is not only interested in apiarists who have musculoskeletal disorders, but also those who have no work-related problems, as she attempts to gain a foundation of data to base her research on. A range of different ages among respondents is also required (although all need to be at least 18 years-old) and a mix of self-employed and employed beekeepers. With 521 beekeeping enterprises of 250 hives or more registered according to the Ministry for Primary Industries, the challenge is on for beekeepers to respond and help Pierce help them.

“This study will not explode the world like Dr Samuel Ramsey’s studies have, but it will contribute to knowledge about what factors are associated with musculoskeletal disorders and potentially reduce the harm they cause.”

Pierce‘s research is driven by a desire to gain knowledge and help beekeepers, with the findings to be publicly available. “I don't want anything out of this, except my PhD,” she says.

There is much to be gained for beekeepers though, so she is asking as many as possible to make contact via email.

“If you can reduce your chances of getting an injury and manage your injuries better, then you are going to get more money because you're going to be more productive,” she says, adding “It's about the beekeepers.”

If you are a beekeeper with more than 250 hives or employed as a beekeeper and wish to take part in the study, email Jane Pierce at bkstudynz@gmail.com


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