Falls Associated With Harvest Work

Orchard Falls Facts: orchard injuries are a major agricultural health and safety issue in Washington State, accounting for 45% to 58% of workers compensation claims.

Workers’ compensation claims in Washington State orchards

Claim frequencies and incidence rates by cause of injury among orchard workers in the main tree fruit growing region of Washington State, 1996–2001

*Per 1,000 FTE years.
From: Hofmann, J Snyder K, Keifer M. A descriptive study of Workers’ Compensation claims in Washington State orchards. Occup Med, 56 (4): 251-257.
Cause of injury n (%) Incidence*
Ladders 4020 (31) 30.2
Vegetation, trees, branches 1674 (13) 12.57
Non-powered tools 904 (7) 6.79
Structure, material 891 (7) 6.69
Particles 862 (7) 6.47
Tractors, machinery 806 (6) 6.05
Ground 730 (7) 5.48
all others (<5%) 3181 (23) na
Total 13,068 98.16

In this study, ladders were the leading cause of orchard injuries, accounting for almost a third of all claims (4,020) and costing $21.5 million over a six-year period. Sprain and strains were the most common consequence of ladder incidents, but fractures and dislocations were more costly, accounting for $7.9 million as a group.

Examples of the stated causes on the claims were unstable placement of the ladder, overextension of the ladder’s third leg, slipping while descending and being struck by a falling ladder. Ladder movement was a contributing cause for more than half (65%) of the injuries and the main cause in 47%. More falls occurred on the upper third of the ladder than in the middle or lower positions.

Slipping accounted for a quarter of the cases.

Clinical Key Point: the medical visit is a good opportunity to talk to orchard worker patients about the fact that falls are common, but preventable, particularly with careful handling of the ladder. Refer patients to orchard ladder safety materials.