Slips, trips, and falls: The dangers of the commonplace hazard

J Franklin BCSP Author photo 2019 1Walking from here to there. Going from one level to another. Stepping over this cord or that tool. Are such routine actions really hazardous in the workplace?

The Cost

According to the 2019 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index, injuries from slips, trips, and falls (STF) in the workplace cost US businesses US$17.54bn annually. These seemingly benign actions resulted in 887 deaths and 227,760 lost workday incidents in 2017 alone. According to the most recent National Safety Council’s “Injury Facts” (2017), STFs accounted for 25.8 per cent of all lost workday injuries. Workers typically lost 12 days on the job, and if the worker was in an industrial setting such as mining, the average days lost went up to 60 days, according to NIOSH. The most frequent injuries included in workers’ compensation claims were sprains, strains, dislocations, and muscle/ligament tears.

According to the OSHA “Safety Pays” calculator and numbers provided by the National Council on Compensation Insurance, an average sprain costs more than US$30,000 in direct costs and US$33,000 in indirect costs. With a three per cent profit margin, depending on the industry and company, that equates to US$2mn in sales to cover a single sprain injury!

What are slips, trips, and falls?

Slip: Too little friction between feet/footwear and the walking/working surface, resulting in a loss of balance (with or without a fall).

Trip: The foot or leg hits an object and the upper body continues moving, resulting in loss of balance (with or without a fall). Also occurs from stepping down to a lower surface and losing balance.

Fall: Both falls to another level, and falls to the same level, usually from a loss of balance, are included in this single definition.

What are the most serious STF hazards?

Each industry has its own unique challenges and environments and therefore specific hazards vary by workplace. But many hazards are common across many industries. One well-studied industry example, with STF hazards similar to retail, transportation, and warehousing, is the healthcare industry. According to a NIOSH report (3) on STF prevention for healthcare workers, the 10 most frequent STF hazards, and several associated prevention methods are:

-Contaminants on the floor:

Provide and maintain a written housekeeping programme

Keep floors clean and dry

-Poor Drainage: Pipes and Drains

Correctly aligned drain pipes

Unclog drains regularly (e.g., kitchens)

-Indoor Walking Surface Irregularities

Replace loose carpeting and remove damaged vinyl tile

Patch cracks greater than ¼” wide

-Outdoor Walking Surface Irregularities

Patch cracks greater than ½” wide

Highlight elevation changes with Safety Yellow warning paint

-Weather Conditions: Ice and Snow

Promptly remove ice and snow from parking lots and sidewalks

Place freezing weather warning monitors at entrances to parking lots

-Inadequate Lighting

Install more light fixtures in parking structures, walkways, and storage rooms

Verify light bulbs have the necessary brightness

-Stairs and Handrails

Paint or tape each step (top and bottom)

Check stair treads and nosing for slip resistance

-Stepstools and Ladders

Train employees on the proper use of ladders

Provide the proper ladders for the job

-Tripping Hazards: Clutter, Loose Cords, Hoses, Wires, and Medical Tubing

Organize storage areas (housekeeping)

Clear walkways and work areas

-Improper Use of Floor Mats and Runners

Use non-slip mats in wet areas

Replace worn mats and/or those with ripped edges

How do I prevent STFs in my organization?

History

What is your company’s history of STFs? Where and when do injuries and close calls occur in your facilities and on what type of jobsites? Survey your workers; Where do they feel is the most likely area for STFs and what would they recommend to prevent future incidents? Does your organization have a fall prevention program (in applicable workplaces) and does it function as designed (e.g., do employees follow prescribed safe work practices to include the installation of guarding where applicable and personal protective equipment)?

Training

With the information gathered from the historical review, next create a list of common hazards and associated areas. Locations subject to weather changes like rain, snow, and ice; transitional hazards like spills and vehicle movement areas; and temporary worksites like construction areas are all examples. Use these data points to train employees on spill cleanup and who/when to call for larger spills. Additionally, provide training on how to report damaged and worn surfaces such as cracks and gaps in walking and working surfaces and damaged tiles, carpet, or other flooring materials. You might also provide contact information for repairs and spill response. If you’ve identified slip-resistant footwear to reduce an identified STF hazard, provide workers with a choice in footwear and have a policy of when and how it should be worn. Recognise employees who do report unsafe walking and working conditions. Consider accredited certifications, such as those from the Board of Certified Safety Professionals, for employees with responsibilities in safety and health to recognize education, training, and experience and show an organizational commitment to excellence and continuous improvement.

Surveillance

Create a STF reduction plan that includes a checklist of workplace-unique hazards. For example, you might consider a daily walkthrough of areas where housekeeping needs attention and a weekly visit to places affected by weather, but with less frequent worker presence, like a remote parking lot or seasonal storage area. Finally, use a list, such as the checklist example provided by NIOSH on page 35 of Slip, Trip, and Fall Prevention for Healthcare Workers (3).

Conclusion

Slips, trips, and falls aren’t “just something that happens.” They cost billions in workers’ compensation and lost productivity. By deliberate analysis of your workplace’s STF history and site conditions, as well as training and surveillance, to include the implementation of NIOSH-identified best practices, STF losses can be reduced and eliminated.

Alain Charles Publishing, University House, 11-13 Lower Grosvenor Place, London, SW1W 0EX, UK
T: +44 20 7834 7676, F: +44 20 7973 0076, W: www.alaincharles.com

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