Sprains, Strains and Falls Safety Tips

Subscribe to our free E-Newsletter, "Agri-News" (formerly RTW This Week)Agri-News
This Week

Farmer/Rancher Safety
    Young Farm Worker Safety

    Children's Safety



        A sprain is an injury which occurs to ligaments caused by a sudden overstretching. The ligament is usually only stretched, but if it is completely torn, a longer period of immobilization and surgical repair may be necessary.


        A strain is an injury to a muscle in which the muscle fibres tear as a result of overstretching. Strains are also known as pulled muscles. The equivalent injury to a ligament is a sprain.

        Sprains and strains can happen to anyone working on a farm. These injuries can happen suddenly with activities such as heavy lifting or slipping on unsteady ground, or they can happen gradually over time with repetitive motions such as sitting on farm machinery with poor ergonomics and posture.

        Sprains and strains can be very painful and can take a very long time to heal. Some injuries can be chronic and crippling. Please take precautions to ensure your tendons, muscles and ligaments stay safe and sound for years to come.


        Here's How:

        • Plan ahead before lifting. Knowing what you're doing and where you're going will prevent you from making awkward movements while holding something heavy. Clear a path, and if lifting something with another person, make sure both of you agree on the plan.
        • Lift close to your body. You will be a stronger and more stable lifter if the object is held close to your body rather than at the end of your reach. Make sure you have a firm hold on the object you are lifting, and keep it balanced close to your body.
        • Feet shoulder width apart. A solid base of support is important while lifting. Holding your feet too close together will be unstable, too far apart will hinder movement. Keep the feet about shoulder width apart and take short steps.
        • Bend your knees and keep your back straight. Practice the lifting motion before you lift the object, and think about your motion before you lift. Focus on keeping your spine straight--raise and lower to the ground by bending your knees.
        • Tighten your stomach muscles. Tightening your abdominal muscles will hold your back in a good lifting position and will help prevent excessive force on the spine.
        • Lift with your legs. Your legs are many times stronger than your back muscles--let your strength work in your favour. Again, lower to the ground by bending your knees, not your back. Keeping your eyes focused upwards helps to keep your back straight.
        • If you're straining, get help. If an object is too heavy, or awkward in shape, make sure you have someone around who can help you lift.
        • Wear a belt or back support. If you are lifting in your job or often at home a back belt can help you maintain a better lifting posture. For more information on back supports that can help support the low back while lifting, click here.
        • Never bend your back to pick something up. It's just not worth the damage that improper lifting technique can cause.
        • Hold the object close to your body. You are a much more stable lifter if you're not reaching for an object.
        • Don't twist or bend. Face in the direction you are walking. If you need to turn, stop, turn in small steps, and then continue walking.
        • Keep your eyes up. Looking slightly upwards will help you maintain a better position of the spine.

        From April 1990 to March 2000 there were 2,195 reported cases of falls requiring hospitalization in Canada. 19 percent of falls were from ladders or scaffolding, while 18 percent were cases of slipping, tripping or stumbling and 17 percent were a fall from or out of a building or other structure.

        Fall protection system:
        A system designed to protect workers from the risk of falling between levels when working at heights. Examples of fall protection systems include safety harnesses and lifelines; the use of guardrails or barriers; and, travel restraints that limit a worker's movement to a safe area.

        Guardrail system:
        Means an assembly of components joined together to provide a barrier to prevent a worker from falling from the edge of a surface.

        Three-point contact method:
        Refers to maintaining contact with either two hands and one foot or two feet and one hand at all times.

        General responsibilities
        1. The employer shall provide information, instruction and supervision to protect the safety of workers who may be injured by falling:
        • from a height within a structure;
        • from a ladder;
        • through openings in a work surface;
        • while working on a level surface;
        • or while working on and around machinery.
          1. The employer and supervisor should ensure that a worker who uses a fall protection system to prevent a fall is adequately instructed in its use by a competent person.
          2. The employer and supervisor should ensure that a fall protection system is used whenever a fall from a height involves a risk of injury and that the components of the fall protection system are adequate to protect the worker.
          3. The employer, supervisor and workers should keep work surfaces clear of slip and trip hazards to the greatest extent possible.
          4. Workers should:
        • follow the instruction and training provided by the employer
        • learn to recognize potential slip and trip hazards
        • report anything they feel could be a threat to sound footing to their supervisor

        Factors to Consider in Fall Prevention

        Falls from heights
        1. The employer should develop safety procedures for each job task that requires a worker to work at a height greater than three meters.
        2. Each procedure should outline specific safety precautions to be taken to protect the worker from a fall. The employer should instruct workers in these procedures and review them before a worker starts the task.
        3. Where there is a hazard of falling between levels or floors within a building or structure, a guardrail system should be provided as the primary means of fall protection. The guardrail system should be constructed to withstand all loads applied to it.
        4. If a guardrail system cannot be installed, the employer should provide adequate protection to protect the worker from a fall.
        5. The employer should provide adequate protection when a guardrail system has to be removed temporarily to perform work. The employer may consider:
        • providing an alternate means of fall protection that will not allow a worker to fall onto either the ground or another level or object below the work
        • ensuring that the alternate means of fall protection is used by the workers
        • posting warning signs
          1. Trap doors and feed "throw down" holes should be covered when not in use.
          2. Guardrails should be installed around clean-out openings in multi-floored confinement houses and other such structures when the openings are not in use.
        Working with ladders
        1. The employer should ensure that a portable ladder has non-slip feet, is placed on firm footing, and has no broken or loose members or other faults.
        2. If it is necessary to work on a ladder for an extended period of time, without changing location, the employer should try to provide scaffolds or other work platforms to reduce the risk of falling.
        3. When a portable ladder exceeds six meters in length, and is not securely fastened or is likely to be endangered by traffic, it should be:
        • held in place by one or more workers while being used; and,
        • inclined so that the horizontal distance from the top support to the foot of the ladder is not less than one quarter and not more than one third of the length of the ladder.
          1. The employer should ensure that an orchard ladder is appropriate for the task, and that the worker is instructed in its proper use. When necessary for safety, the feet of the ladder should be equipped with steel points or other non-slipping bases designed for the surface on which the ladder will be used.
          2. Where a worker climbs the outside of a structure such as a silo or grain bin on an access ladder fixed in position, the ladder should have a safety cage installed to protect the worker. In the absence of a safety cage, other means of fall protection should be used, for example, the three-point method of contact while climbing.
        Eliminating slips and trips on a level surface
        1. All aisles and walkways should be kept free of clutter and debris.
        2. Oil spills and other slippery materials should be cleaned up immediately.
        3. Areas that are slippery because of the continuous use of water--common in the floriculture industry--should be off-limits as general traffic areas and restricted to those workers who must perform their duties in that area.
        4. Workers should put tools away when they are no longer needed.
        5. Sand and/or salt should be spread on icy surfaces if work has to be done in the vicinity. If the weather is particularly bad, consider putting the job off until conditions improve.
        6. Workers should wear safety footwear, appropriate for the work being done, to prevent slipping and falling on walking surfaces.
        Taking extra care around machinery
        Slips, trips and falls around farm equipment can have fatal consequences. Here are some additional points to consider when working with machinery;
        1. Workers should never jump from a tractor. There is always the danger of catching clothing on pedals, levers, or other protruding parts. They could land on an uneven surface and injure their ankles, legs, or back.
        2. Workers should be instructed on the proper techniques for mounting and dismounting equipment. They should always use handrails, handholds, and steps to mount or dismount tractors and self-propelled equipment. Workers should follow the three-point system--either two hands and one foot, or one hand and two feet on the machine at all times.
        3. Never operate equipment from any position other than the operator's seat or control area.
        4. The equipment operator should never allow passengers to ride along. They are much more likely to fall from a machine when it is moving.
        5. Steps and platforms of tractors and other machinery should be kept clean and dry. Take the time to clean off mud, ice, snow, manure, grease, and other debris that can accumulate on these surfaces. Do not carry tools, chains, or other equipment on the platform.
        Alberta Farm Safety Program
        Email: farm.safety@gov.ab.ca
        or toll-free: 310-FARM (3276)

        Alberta Agriculture and Forestry Farm Safety Staff:
        Janice Donkers, Youth Coordinator: janice.donkers@gov.ab.ca
        Kenda Lubeck, Coordinator: kenda.lubeck@gov.ab.ca
        Raelyn Peterson, Coordinator: raelyn.d.peterson@gov.ab.ca
        Sharon Stollery, Manager: sharon.stollery@gov.ab.ca
        Blair Takahashi, Specialist: blair.takahashi@gov.ab.ca

      Share via AddThis.com
      For more information about the content of this document, contact Kenda Lubeck.
      This information published to the web on March 6, 2007.
      Last Reviewed/Revised on November 8, 2018.