Risk Management & Safety

Assessing Specific Risks at Farmers’ Markets

The following sections address specific safety issues that market managers frequently cite as important, along with suggestions on how to reduce exposure to these risks. In general, walking your market every day and looking for common safety hazards is a proactive risk management strategy. Make sure to conduct a similar inspection after everything is set up and operating. Keeping a daily market activity record helps you keep track of hazards and how you have addressed them. After each market, write down any warnings to sellers about safety.  Use checklists to do a periodic safety check. Keep these records in case you need to demonstrate the precautions you have taken.

Structures, Tables, and Surface Conditions: Temporary structures such as canopies, umbrellas, and tables are easily knocked down or blown over. Uneven surfaces, curbs, and potholes are easily obscured by boxes or debris, and wet surfaces can be slippery and hazardous to customers maneuvering through crowds. Market managers, staff members, and volunteers should constantly watch for such unsafe conditions. Use the following guidelines when scanning the market for safety concerns.

Shade structures may require anchoring to heavy objects such as buckets filled with concrete. Canopy Safety 101 for ideas on appropriate weights for structures.

  • Tables and other display equipment must be strong and stable so that they will not collapse under the weight of produce or if bumped or nudged.
  • Wet, icy, or otherwise unsafe surface conditions should be marked with caution signs and possibly taped off to prevent access.
  • Surface conditions such as potholes and uneven ground should be noted and reported to the appropriate agent for repair (e.g., the property owner or city officials).
  • Vendors should maintain clean, orderly stalls with minimal clutter. Waste should not be allowed to accumulate on the ground. It should be kept in buckets or other appropriate waste containers.
  • Utilize a Safety Checklist for a more complete list of concerns and use the checklist to routinely assess safety risks at your market.

Emergency Access: Emergency and public safety personnel and vehicles may at times need to enter the market. Adequately wide and frequent access lanes facilitate this vital service. Local authorities such as the fire marshal can answer questions about these requirements. With regard to emergency access:

  • Check with the fire department regarding protocols for access for emergency response vehicles and personnel.
  • Plan for several entrance and exit points and for sufficient unobstructed space between stalls and along main isles.
  • From market set-up until the last vendor leaves, monitor access areas to ensure that they remain unobstructed by boxes, bicycles, vehicles, or other objects.

Equipment and Facilities: While “walking the market,” make a habit of inspecting vendor tables for signs of overloading and keep an eye out for obstacles overhead as well as underfoot that could cause accidents. Also, watch for jagged or sharp objects protruding from vehicles, canopies, and tables. Market-owned equipment should be routinely inspected and promptly repaired or replaced if broken. Examples of some items that need routine attention include chairs, tables, carts, shade structures, hanging signs, fire extinguishers, hand rails, barricades, and light fixtures. Facilities such as restrooms, water faucets, drains, and electrical outlets should also be routinely inspected.

Food contact surfaces should be in good repair.  Prep counters, tables, cutting boards, utensils, etc. should be smooth and easy to clean, and should be in good repair to prevent any physical hazards from being introduced into the food.

Fire and Electrical Hazards: Before the market opens, verify all of the following.

  • Check with the local fire department or inspector regarding potential fire or electrical hazards –– special use permits may be required for temporary electrical service.
  • A working, routinely inspected fire extinguisher should be located at the market information booth and at the stall of any vendor who uses electricity or open flames.
  • If extension cords are used, make sure they are protected from foot and other traffic and that they do not stretch across wet areas.

First Aid: Injuries and other health emergencies occasionally occur at large public events. In such an emergency, proper first aid can make the difference between life and death and significantly reduce the likelihood of serious liability on the part of the market. Some common injuries and health emergencies to prepare for include:

  • heat stroke and dehydration
  • sprained ankles
  • minor cuts and scrapes
  • health crises arising from existing conditions such as heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, and asthma.

Be sure to have a complete first aid kit at the manager’s table or booth and make sure that its location is commonly known and clearly visible at the market. A bright banner or flag, for example, helps people identify this important service point.

If possible, the manager or another person who is typically present at the market should hold current first aid and CPR certifications. Check with vendors and other staff members to see if they have such training. The American Red Cross offers courses in first aid, CPR, and other types of occupational safety training, and other local agencies such as fire departments may offer training as well.

Night Operation: For a market that operates at dusk or into the evening, plan to provide adequate illumination on paths leading to the market and throughout the area. Inspect lights frequently and promptly service broken or inadequate fixtures. Night operation also sometimes requires additional security such as extra police service.

Parking and Traffic: Parking and traffic issues are growing concerns at markets, and they often influence where markets can be established. Market management should consider these issues periodically as a market grows and particularly whenever a special event is planned. Other factors that can affect parking and traffic at and around the market include nearby construction projects and other events being held nearby.

Consider the safety of customers while they are on their way to and from the market from parking areas or public transportation access points. Does the market need a volunteer to assist people who are elderly or who have limited mobility to cross busy intersections? Can city personnel help by providing traffic control devices, police personnel to regulate a crossing, or additional parking closer to the market?

Accidents involving vehicles are of great concern when a city street or parking lot is transformed into a busy market filled with pedestrians. The risks in these situations can be substantially reduced with careful planning and monitoring.

  • Vendor vehicles should be equipped with wheel chocks or blocks to prevent inadvertent motion.
  • Some markets exclude vendors who arrive late and do not allow vendors to leave early in order to minimize hazards associated with vehicles moving through the market during peak customer traffic.
  • To improve access and eliminate the need for double parking, some markets provide customers with a drive-up loading and unloading zone. It might be possible to have the city designate an official “white zone” on a street adjacent to the market. White zones are parking areas along curbs that permit stopping for loading and unloading passengers only during specifically posted times and days.
  • If you have to tow a vehicle blocking your market area, use a professional towing company, and take photos (keep a camera in your market “kit”) of the car before and after it is moved to prevent a claim of damage during the moving process.

Pets and Live Animals: Pets, with the exception of guide dogs, should generally be excluded from markets. The crowds and excitement can make even well-trained pets difficult to control. Other live animals, for sale or demonstration, should be securely caged or penned, and such activities may generate a need for special inspections, licensing, or permitting. Health codes can be very restrictive about these matters.

Weather: Inclement weather conditions such as rain, ice, and snow can drastically increase “trip and fall” risks. Strong winds can topple equipment, and extreme sun and heat can be hazardous for everyone, especially elderly participants. On rainy or icy days, slippery walking areas should be clearly marked with Caution signs and also may need sand or salt treatment to increase traction. On hot days, offer access to drinking water and a shaded place to rest if possible.

Security: Unfortunately, as a public gathering, a farmers market can occasionally become the scene of a crime. Theft and disorderly conduct are two of the most common security concerns that market managers encounter. Because farmers markets often bring together people from diverse communities, individual vendors may not be familiar with the risks involved in doing business in an unfamiliar environment.

Successful markets transfer thousands of dollars in cash during a few hours of operation. This large volume of cash can tempt thieves in any community.  Tell your sellers to keep their cash close to them and out of sight. Have them pay you any daily fees by check to minimize your personal cash and security exposure.

Some markets have volunteer or paid customer assistance staff on hand at the market, particularly at entrance and exit points. These people answer or redirect customer questions and monitor incidents that could require immediate attention, such as an unleashed pet or a disorderly person, for example. A quick response often helps avert serious consequences in hazardous situations.

It is important to share all of these precautions with the market’s vendors and include them with tips and other topics in the market’s newsletter. Annual reminders are important, particularly when a market closes between seasons. In addition, it is prudent to provide this information to all new vendors before they begin participating in the market.

In some cases, markets have hired outside security services or contracted for additional city police services to enhance safety. These matters should be discussed with the market board of directors and at the market’s annual meetings.

Staffing: Unexpected staff absences make it difficult to provide an adequately safe environment at a market. Maintaining a list of alternate staff members or volunteers who can replace someone who is unable to work on market day helps to minimize gaps in safety. For special events when customer turnout is high, additional workers may be necessary.

Reports: If an accident occurs at the market or at a special event, it is important to make and maintain a written record of what occurred and where and when the accident took place. In addition to facilitating communication with authorities and insurance adjusters, these reports identify where hazards exist and suggest how to prevent similar accidents in the future. An Accident Report Form is helpful for recording this information.

Be sure your sellers know what insurance the market carries and what is covered and what is not. Provide written notice in your rules, membership application, or other means to be sure they accept this coverage and thus take any action they need to take, or that you may suggest or require.