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The surprising hazard lurking at your feet

Slips and trips are commonplace ingredients in a large number of workplace accidents

Working safely with equipment gets a lot of attention — and rightly so — when it comes to preventing accidents on the farm.

But there are also major hazards lurking by your feet, and this, too, is something you should think about before starting any building project on the farm.

Falls account for one in five lost-time claims in Alberta, according to the Occupational Health and Safety division of the provincial Labour Department.

“The severity of falls is often underestimated — serious injuries or death can result from falls of as little as one metre,” the OHS states in a fact sheet called Slips, Trips and Falls.

In fact, just under 14 per cent of all lost-time claims in 2015 resulted from a “fall on the same level,” according to Workers’ Compensation Board data. Falls to a lower level accounted for six per cent of lost-time claims that year.

Slips are also a serious workplace hazard.

“Many lower back injuries occur when a person carrying or lifting an object tries to recover from a slip or loss of balance,” the OHS states.

When you think about it, the act of walking is actually pretty challenging.

“It’s amazing that we don’t fall more often than we do,” the OHS states. “As our leg swings forward each time we take a step, our toe rushes past the ground at a speed of 14 to 18 kilometres an hour and is often less than one centimetre above it. And as we land our heel, it normally slips forward along the ground for a distance of up to two centimetres without causing us to lose our balance.”

The publication offers several tips that apply to construction sites, fencing projects, and other building or repair jobs on the farm (and elsewhere):

  • Try to eliminate abrupt changes in walking surface height. Changes in height that are as little as one centimetre high increase the odds of tripping.
  • Wear appropriate footwear to reduce the chances of slipping.
  • Remove clutter from workplaces and remember that many inside falls are caused by dirt, grease, or contaminants on floors.
  • When possible, use a ramp in place of a ladder, but “be aware that when a ramp angle increases to as much as 20 degrees, the friction or slip resistance of the surface must increase approximately threefold in order to prevent slips.”

If using a ladder, bear in mind these recommendations from the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety:

  • Place the ladder feet so that the horizontal distance between the feet and the top support is one-quarter of the working length of the ladder. The ladder will be leaning at a 75-degree angle from the ground.
  • For access to an elevated work surface, erect ladders so that a minimum of one metre extends above a landing platform. Tie the top at support points.
  • Brace or tie off the ladder near the base. If there is no structure to tie off to, use a stake in the ground.
  • Before mounting a ladder, clean the boot soles if they are muddy or slippery. Avoid climbing with wet soles. Ensure that footwear is in good condition.
  • Check the load rating marked on the stepladder. The rating should cover the person’s weight and the weight of tools that will be used. (Construction stepladders are given a grade of 1, 1A, or 1AA depending on their load rating. Grade 2 ladders, which have a load rating of 225 pounds and a maximum length of 12 feet, are described as suitable for tradesmen and farm use.)

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