Several types of walking and working surfaces are on farms and farmers may encounter some or even all of them throughout the workday. Farmers with a disability or mobility limitation can have an increased risk of injury from a trip, slip, or fall because of the variety of surfaces they encounter on a regular basis. Individuals facing mobility issues or a diminished sense of balance are at greatest risk of injury when transferring from one surface to the next.
OSHA reports slips, trips, or falls cause almost 20 percent of all workplace injuries. Nearly all slips or falls have one or more of these factors as a cause: (1) substandard walking surfaces; (2) surface contaminants; (3) footwear; and (4) walking style of the person. Proper housekeeping and lighting of working and walking surfaces can prevent most slips, trips, and falls. Sometimes surface contaminants can be very difficult to recognize as a hazard and once the hazard is noticed, must be cleaned up to prevent any risk of injury. Wearing the proper footwear for current weather conditions, as well as the surfaces being traveled, is important to prevent slips, trips or falls, and reduce fatigue.
Areas on the Farm Where Walking/Working Surfaces Can Be a Hazard
- Sidewalks, driveways, gravel lots, grass lanes, sloped terrain
- Concrete or wooden floors, aisles/passageways, steps, ramps
- Mezzanines, fixed industrial stairs, equipment platforms, elevated walkways, grain pits and storage areas
- Animal barns, feed lots, pasture areas, chemical storage areas, fueling areas, farm shops
Incidents That Can Occur on Walking and Working Surfaces
Trips occur when an obstruction catches the worker's foot and causes him or her to stumble forward. Tripping hazards include cords, equipment, uneven floor mats, and unseen or unexpected objects. These tripping hazards should be picked up and put away after every use, and when they are in use be aware of the danger they could pose in a walkway, such as an electrical cord strung across a sidewalk.
Slips occur when an individual slides along smoothly causing a loss of balance. Slipping hazards include wet, icy, greasy, or soiled ground or floors. People need to wear the proper foot apparel appropriate for the job, such as steel toed and slip resistant. Use absorbents to clean up any spills, especially oily material and corrosive materials.
Falls occur from an individual descending freely by the force of gravity. A fall can happen from any surface higher than four inches such as ladders, hydraulic lifts, large equipment, elevated walkways, ramps, or platforms. Falls may also occur into or through a hole. The majority of falls occur from heights less than 10 feet, so safety precautions need to be taken, even at lower heights.
Safe Practices for Individuals With Mobility Limitations
In most cases individuals cannot control their walking style; however, those with mobility issues, diminished balance, arthritis, or even hip or knee replacement can follow some simple guidelines to reduce their risk.
- Utilize handrails or grab bars in areas where there are stairs or changes in elevation.
- Use three points of contact when mounting or dismounting equipment (1 hand/2 feet) or (2 hands/1 foot).
- In wet or icy conditions, take smaller steps and try to ensure your torso stays balanced over your feet.
- Use slip-resistant matting or provide textured surfaces in potentially wet areas.
- Minimize distractions to remain alert to hazards and avoid carrying bulky items that block your view.
- Remove obstructions from travel areas, such as extension cords, power cords, hoses, boxes, or tools.
- Stay alert to parts projecting from machines or equipment.
- Repair uneven/warped flooring, protruding nails, splinters and loose boards, or cracks in concrete, which can create an uneven walking surface.
- Create smooth transitions from loose gravel to other surfaces.
This fact sheet was reviewed by Karen Mancl, PhD, Professor, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering, The Ohio State University; Pat Luchkowsky, Director of Public Affairs, Easter Seals of Ohio.
Lehtola, Carol J., William J. Becker, and Charles M. Brown. "Preventing Injuries from Slips, Trips, and Falls" (CIR869). University of Florida Extension, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. PDF.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration. n.d. "Fact Sheet Preventing Falls." Washington, D.C.: United States Department of Labor.
Orr, John. 2007. "Walking and Working Surface Safety." Safety Leader's Discussion Guide. Ohio Bureau of Workers' Compensation. PDF.
Ponticelli, Mark. n.d. "Slips, Trips, and Falls." Business and Governmental Insurance Agency.
About AgrAbility Based Fact Sheets
These fact sheets were developed to promote success in agriculture for Ohio's farmers and farm families coping with a disability or long-term health condition. AgrAbility offers information and referral materials such as this fact sheet, along with on-site assessment, technical assistance, and awareness in preventing secondary injuries. Fact sheets were developed with funding from NIFA, project number OHON0006.