Safety Considerations for Community Gardens and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)

Dee Jepsen—State Agricultural Safety and Health Leader
Andrea Costin, MPH—Recent OSU graduate where she conducted a research project on agricultural related injuries
Community gardens present unique safety and health hazards for garden staff and volunteers. Workers of all ages tend to these gardens, with various levels of knowledge, skills, and physical condition. For many volunteers, working in a community garden or on a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm, is their first experience with crop production or horticulture. Having awareness of the hazards and risk is not something they think about when they come to work. Educating the staff and volunteers on workplace safety, emergency action plans, and first aid is important for community garden owners and managers. 
Workplace Safety. The physical environment itself on farms, gardens and greenhouses can have hazards that lead to injuries. 
Hand tools designed to cut, dig and prune do not discriminate between plant and soil, and human skin. Often times a good pair of gloves, close-toe shoes, and long sleeves/pants will protect the person from minor cuts and abrasions. 
Community gardens built on previous residential or industrial plots may have debris in the soil left behind by the previous owners; it is not uncommon to find scrap metal, nails, broken glass, and other discarded items on the property. Working on these newly developed sites may also require gloves, close-toe shoes, and long sleeves/pants to protect from cuts abrasions, and puncture wounds. Having a current vaccination for tetanus is a good idea as well.
Some tasks using roto-tillers, electric pruners and chainsaws will require stronger protection like leather gloves and boots. 
Chemical handling will require rubber gloves, and possibly a rubber apron, rubber boots, and goggles (depending on the scope of the project, and the type of chemical being applied).
Slips, trips and falls are common in garden and greenhouse environments. Uneven terrain, water hoses, garden tools, and equipment like pots, stakes, and harvest containers are often to blame. Persons with limited mobility or other handicaps may find it difficult to assess all areas of the greenhouse or garden plot.
Common ergonomic issues affecting horticultural workers include repetitive motions and awkward posture. It is recommended to take regular stretch breaks or rotate between garden tasks that require long periods of the same activity in order to reduce muscle tension.  
Sun safety practices include wearing a hat with a 3” brim all the way around and lightweight clothing. These protect the skin from from UV exposure when sunscreen is not desirable.   
Emergency Action Plans. Because emergencies are unpredictable and can occur at anytime, including weather-related emergencies, it is important to have a pre-determined plan of action for all garden staff and volunteers to follow. Not all persons may be familiar with the community or know where to take shelter if a thunderstorm or weather event strikes.
Posting a sign where to take shelter in the event of a weather-related emergency is important for staff, volunteers, and visitors. When there is no place to post the sign, and there is a small workforce (10 or fewer), it is possible to verbally give this information.
Have emergency numbers posted for non-life threatening 911 emergencies. It is also recommended to post a number where a supervisor or property manager can be contacted. 
First Aid. Being prepared for injuries is just as important as preventing injuries. 
Have a first aid kit available on-site, or possibly in a person’s vehicle, for treatment of injuries, insect stings, and heat/headache relief.
Access to fresh water for drinking, hand-washing, and heat stress cool-down is recommended. Having staff and volunteers bring their own water when attending the gardens may be necessary in some locations. On-site water supplies collected from rooftops or rain barrels should not be assumed to be drinking quality; many contaminants can be present.  
Additional safety and health information, designed specifically for community gardens, greenhouses, small farms and community supported agriculture (CSA) land can be accessed on-line at:
Additional planning guides for emergencies, including safety information for agritourism and outdoor community festivals or events, are available at
For more information on agricultural safety, contact Dee Jepsen, State Agricultural Safety and Health Leader at or visit the Ag Safety and Health Program website