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Field safety best practices

April 17, 2018  - By

The Sports Turf Managers Association (STMA) has made available several educational resources to help sports turf managers provide safe, playable athletic fields for athletes.

These bulletins include a troubleshoot tip sheet, a safety and maintenance checklist for football/soccer fields, a checklist for baseball/softball facilities, lightning safety guidelines and field hardness testing. In addition, there are videos and links for university resources available.

Here’s a breakdown of a few of the common hazards on sports fields and how to reduce the possibility of injury, according to STMA’s guide to Improving Field Safety for Athletes.


If not corrected, soil compaction — the compression of soil due to foot or vehicular traffic — can lead to the loss of grass and reveal a bare, hard surface. Areas that encounter the most traffic, say for instance goal mouths or sidelines, are susceptible to compaction. And wet soil increases the rate of compaction.

How to reduce compaction:

  • When possible, rotate or shift field layout to spread out the wear that contributes to compaction.
  • Change the location of daily practices. Using portable goals or goal posts also prevents athletes from using the same areas of the field.
  • Add aeration to annual field maintenance. Aerifying several times a year while plants are growing will help combat compaction problems.


When weeds encroach on a playing surface, traction is compromised because weeds crowd out preferred turfgrass species, they do not withstand wear and tear of a field, and they do not provide stable footing for athletes.

How to reduce weeds on the field:

  • Increase mowing height to reduce germination and establishment of weeds (decreases amount of sunlight reaching weed seeds).
  • If irrigation is an option, water deeply and infrequently.
  • Conduct a soil test to determine soil conditions, including soil pH and nutrient requirements. Maintaining an optimal pH range — 6 to 8 with 6.5 as the target — will help turfgrass maximize available soil nutrients.
  • Apply seed when turfgrass density is reduced.


No one wants a playing surface with holes, mounts, ruts or trenches, but with regular use, maintenance equipment and animals, it’s easy to happen on a field.

  • Conduct regular maintenance, including mowing, fertilization, irrigation, seeding and aeration.
  • When an area has less than 75 percent turfgrass coverage, weeds and/or clump weed growth, wet or muddy areas, or holes, mounds, ruts or trenches, level bumps and fill in divots and holes. When using topdressing with sand or soil to level the playing surface, use material that matches the existing soil medium.

Baseball and softball infields

A loose infield leads to low traction. An infield that is excessively hard presents a serious safety risk for players sliding into bases. An infield that is too wet creates a slick and sometimes sticky surface. All are less than ideal. Another thing to be on the lookout for is the creation of a lip. There should be no soil buildup between the skinned area and the turfgrass.

How to improve the condition of infields:

  • Evaluate the infield mix. Test the infield mix to determine if you need to adjust the sand or clay content.
  • Apply irrigation if the field is too hard.
  • Nail dig the infield to loosen up a hard infield mix. Only nail drag the top surface of the infield mix. Do not dig down too deep, which will cause the field to get too soft.
  • Regularly add infield mix to fill low spots and maintain surface drainage.
  • If the field is too soft or powdery, which may be an indication that silt or sand levels are high, apply irrigation, roll the infield and reduce the amount of nail dragging. Remixing the existing infield using a rototiller can also help return the field to a more playable condition. After rototilling, the field should be rolled and graded to regain its firmness.

Additional considerations to improve field safety

  • Keep records. Maintaining accurate records for all aspects of your facility is essential for a successful program. Plus, documentation is helpful to have should a problem arise.
  • Test surface hardness. Tools and specifications to assess athletic field surface hardness are now commercially available, although their unit cost typically results in this testing being done by a commercial contractor.
  • Create a risk management plan. Things to consider adding to the risk management plan include developing a safety committee, establishing standard operating procedures for field safety assessments and making instructional and directional signage prominent on the field(s) in case of emergency.

To read the full bulletin, as well as other resources from STMA, visit the STMA Knowledge Center.

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