An employee who is watering plants leaves her hose sprawled across the greenhouse floor. Another worker who is moving large pots trips over a cart that wasn’t put away. Still another employee in a rush to assist a customer slips and falls in a pool of water that wasn’t marked off with "caution" signs or safety cones.
These are just three of the many ways slip, trip and fall injuries commonly occur in greenhouses throughout the country. These injuries, which could just as easily happen to a customer as to an employee, can result in high costs to greenhouse growers.
"With an employee injury of this nature, the cost to the greenhouse owner will vary. It could range from a percentage or two increase in your workers’ compensation premium rates to a 20 percent increase and possibly even more," says Jeff Graham of LaPorte & Associates, a Portland, Ore.-based insurance agency that insures green industry companies nationwide. "Depending on your company’s loss record, one more serious incident could take you out of qualifying for standard rates and push you into your state’s risk pool. When this happens, I have seen a company’s insurance rates increase by more than 50 percent."
"If a customer were to have a slip and fall accident on your premises," Graham continues, "your insurance rates could certainly increase, but even more than that, competition for your policy could decrease, meaning fewer insurance companies may be willing to insure you. When this happens, those companies that are willing to insure the risk are very likely to ask for higher premiums."
The potential costs to a greenhouse owner for serious slip, trip and fall injuries go beyond increases in insurance rates. These include:
• Lengthy workers’ compensation claims (particularly for such injuries as back injuries, which often recur).
• The costs associated with recruiting, hiring and training replacement workers.
• Decreased production, while a new worker learns the job of the injured employee.
• Negative publicity and the potential loss of good customers (should, for example, an older adult customer slip, fall and break a leg, arm or his or her back).
• Potential legal fees and/or OSHA citations and fines.
• Poor employee morale and the potential loss of good workers (especially if steps aren’t taken to prevent these injuries from recurring).
One of the best and easiest ways to determine potential slip, trip and fall hazards in your greenhouses and on your outdoor property is to take a walk-through yourself. Take a notebook with you and write down what you see. Among the many hazards you may find are:
• Evidence of "poor housekeeping" – carts, ladders, large pots and numerous other supplies not put back where they belong.
• Wet or otherwise slick (from algae, etc.) floors that weren’t immediately mopped up.
• Failure to use "Caution-Wet Floor" or similar signage and safety cones to mark off wet areas.
• Boxes, pots and other materials stored on stairs.
• Ladders leaning against high shelves, rather than being properly set up for workers to use (a potentially very serious fall hazard).
• Tripping hazards in offices (desk drawers or cabinet doors left open, coffee spills that weren’t cleaned up, boxes left in aisles).
• Hoses that aren’t properly rolled up.
• Inadequate lighting, both indoors and in parking lots.
• Failure by employees to wear shoes or boots with non-slip soles.
• Uneven carpeting, mats or runners.
Unfortunately, this list could go on and on. If you think of each slip, trip and fall hazard as the potential loss of a good customer or a good employee, in addition to lengthy and costly insurance claims and/or OSHA penalties and legal fees, you will see the importance of taking steps to reduce the risk of these injuries.
What To Do
The Safety Department at Bachman’s in Minneapolis, Minn., trains its greenhouse, retail garden center and landscape managers in how to prepare for potential customer and employee injuries that may result in liability. Preventing slip and fall injuries is a major part of the issues that are covered. Here is some helpful information from Bachman’s:
The natural properties of any surface can substantially change when people track in mud, snow, dirt and water. Water-absorbent mats, runners or rugs are designed to reduce such hazards. Floor maintenance requires special attention to eliminate the hazard of torn or curled up floor coverings. Floors, stairs and other walking surfaces should be kept non-slippery, clear and in good repair.
Poor lighting can also cause falls. Light values at floor level should be uniform with no glare or shadow. Also, there should be no sudden shifts in light levels between floor areas, such as from bright sunlight outside the entrance to a dimly lit interior area.
Some other factors are customer-related: age, illness, emotional disturbances, fatigue, lack of familiarity with the environment and poor vision. Because these factors cannot be readily controlled, it becomes doubly important to make walking surfaces as safe as possible.
What else can you do to reduce your risk of slip, trip and fall injuries? Here are a few more suggestions:
Regularly check your greenhouses, parking lots and other property for the presence of slip, trip and fall hazards. Hold supervisors/managers accountable for eliminating or reducing the risk of these hazards. Make sure daily checks are made, and that written documentation is kept on when and how hazardous conditions are corrected.
Conduct regular safety training on slip, trip and fall prevention with your employees. (See Preventing Injuries.)
Enforce "good housekeeping" rules and set an example. If your employees see your office in disarray (empty boxes and other debris stored on the floor, drawers left open, etc.), it is unlikely that they will take you seriously.
Have written rules that prohibit employees from jumping on and off of equipment.
Keep all entrances to your greenhouse, parking areas and steps used to get on and off of equipment free of mud and debris (and free of snow and ice during the winter months).
Require the use of proper footwear: sturdy shoes or boots with non-slip soles that have good traction.