FEATURES


An Ounce of Prevention

Using technology to prevent slips, trips and falls on the farm
By Kathleen Hatt


A few simple materials strategically applied around the farm could save your butt—or your back, limbs, head or even your life. According to OSHA, slips, trips and falls are second only to motor vehicle accidents as a cause of fatalities.

No one knows how many of the more than 1 million Americans injured each year as a result of a slip, trip or fall were injured while farming. However, since farming is generally ranked among the six most dangerous occupations, probably a significant portion of those were injured while farming. Aging is also a significant factor. The highest fatality rates from slips, trips and falls were for those over 65; the second highest were for those in the 55 to 64 age group.

“Of all the illnesses and injuries that happen to farmers, slips, trips and falls are the most common kind of adverse event, and they can be devastating,” says Therese Willkomm, assistant professor, Department of Occupational Therapy, University of New Hampshire and director of the New Hampshire Assistive Technology Program. Being bumped by livestock or falling on a slippery surface, for example, can lead to the need for hip replacement.

What happens when you slip, trip and fall?

Slips—Normal walking slips happen when the heel of the forward foot contacts the walking surface, the front foot slips forward and the person falls backward. A slip and fall may occur when the rear foot slips backward. Force to move forward is on the sole of the rear foot. As the rear heal is lifted and the force moves forward to the front of the sole, the foot slips back and the person falls. Both slips and slips and falls are caused primarily by slippery surfaces including liquid, ice and mud, and are compounded by using the wrong footwear.

Trips and Falls—When the front foot strikes an object, something as small as a stalk in a field or as large as a wagon tongue, it is suddenly stopped. The sudden stopping causes the upper body to be thrown forward and a fall may occur. Even a tiny change in the height of a step going up a flight of stairs, as little as a 3/8-inch rise, can cause a person to trip and fall.

Step and Fall—Have you ever unexpectedly stepped off a curb in the dark? As the front foot lands on a surface lower than expected, you may fall forward. If you step forward or down and either the inside or outside of your foot lands on something higher than the other side, your ankle may turn, and you may fall forward or sideways.

PHOTOS COURTESY OF THERESE WILLKOMM.
YakTrax. Sure Foot.
Stabilicers. Get A Grip Ultra.

Why is aging a factor?

A tendency to lift feet less high happens gradually as we get older. Feet can also catch on carpeting, on occasion the very carpeting placed to prevent falling. “Sometimes, materials we use to prevent a slip cause a foot catch and result in a trip,” says Willkomm.

Proprioception plays a role, too. Proprioception, the unconscious perception of movement and spatial orientation by muscles, tendons, joints and the inner ear, dims as the body grows older. As people age, falls become more common because it takes longer for messages to get from the brain to the body. This delay makes it more difficult for older people to catch themselves when they begin to fall.

What else causes slips, trips and falls?

Improper footwear may lead to slips, trips and falls. Oversized objects that obstruct vision when carried may cause a slip or trip, especially on stairs. Clutter and things placed in inappropriate or unfamiliar places can be contributing factors as can inadequate lighting. Had an extension cord not been hurriedly dropped on the dimly lighted floor of his shop, one farmer may have avoided tripping and injuring his right hand and three left fingers when he tried to break his fall.

For farmers who already have mobility impairments, the risk of additional injury due to a slip or fall is greater than for those who do not.

Elevated falls

Falls from heights—ladders, vehicles and equipment, as well as down stairs—are more frequently the cause of severe injuries than same-level falls. Preventing elevated falls is often a matter of using equipment and stairs safely, and adding the same nonslip materials as can be used in level areas.

Ice Tip for Standard Cane Non-Skid Traction Tape for Stairs

Preventing slips, trips and falls

Many materials are available to help prevent slips, trips and falls. Various technologies can modify surfaces, en-hance footing and brighten low-light areas. For a detailed description, photo and to get manufacturers’ information for surface modification and footwear products, visit www.agrabilityproject.org/search/details.cfm?productid.

For almost any surface where gravel might be used, Willkomm recommends crushed limestone. Sharp little limestone rocks, sometimes called “crusher run,” compact better than round pebbles and drain well, two factors that make for a better antitrip, antislip surface.

To make slippery floors slightly tacky, try an old trick used on dance floors: mop the floor with one can of real (not diet) Coca-Cola added to a 5-gallon bucket of warm water.

To help prevent mud season falls, Willkomm suggests applying Grip Strut material to truck steps or vertical climbing areas.

Once you’ve added some of these techniques to your farm, be sure to maintain them. A build-up of mud, dirt and ice will keep the materials from performing at their best.

Footwear and walking aids

Therese Willkomm in her laboratory at the University of New Hampshire.

Lighting

Because more falls occur at night, it is important to light both indoor and outdoor areas of the farm, says Willkomm. Timers and motion detectors can save electricity and batteries when lighting is not needed. Other useful tools includes flashlights with three LED bulbs, one each pointing forward, downward and diagonally, and step nose lighting.

“Everyone should have motion sensor controlled lighting in the yard,” says Willkomm. “A plug-in unit which works with an existing light fixture is available for about $19 at Home Depot and similar stores.” Yard lighting might have prevented one farmer from breaking an ankle. Returning home on a dark night, he parked his pickup next to an unseen pothole. When he stepped down from his truck, he fell into the hole.

To see Therese Willkomm at work, check out her YouTube video at www.youtube.com:80/watch?v=z-Zqi-7JqYg&feature=email. To see more of her 282 YouTube videos about using technology to help with challenges related to movement, hearing and speaking, visit www.youtube.com/profile?user=ATinNH&view=playlists.

For further information

AgrAbility Project, Slips and Falls Resource Sheet: www.agrabilityproject.org:80/assistivetech/resource/slipsandfalls.cfm

AgrAbility Database: www.agrabilityproject.org:80/search/type.cfm?typeid=79&categoryid=10

Includes descriptions of products to help reduce slips and falls including treads, tapes and footwear.

For assistance with a specific problem, farmers are encouraged to contact the National AgrAbility Project at 800-825-4264 or your state AgrAbility Project at http://www.agrability.org/contact-list/index.html. You can also contact your state assistive technology program, listed at www.resnaprojects.org/nattap/at/statecontacts.html. The coordinator of New Hampshire’s assistive technology program is Dr. Willcomm, who is available to New Hampshire residents by phone or e-mail:

Therese Willkomm, Ph.D., ATP, clinical assistant professor, Department of Occupational Therapy and coordinator of AtinNH (New Hampshire’s Statewide Assistive Technology Program with The Institute on Disability) 603-491-6555 or theresew@unh.edu.

Kathleen Hatt is a freelance writer and a frequent contributor to Farming. She resides in Henniker, N.H.