When most workers hear “fall” they think of slipping off a ladder or a roof, or plunging from some other great height. The truth is that falls from the same level, or slips, trips, and falls injure more workers every year than falls to a lower level. According to the 2011 Liberty Mutual Safety Index, in 2009 “slips, trips, and falls” was the second leading cause of all workplace injuries, and cost employers more than $7.94 billion. Here are some insights to minimize slips, trips, and falls in your workplace.
Slips — When a person is walking or standing the friction between their feet and the surface they are navigating keeps them upright. However, when this friction is compromised the feet become unstable and a person can possibly slip and fall. Many factors may contribute to this loss of friction, including:
• Slippery floor surfaces (smooth shiny tile; metal worn smooth by many feet; smooth-finished concrete)
• Slippery materials on floor surfaces (ice, snow, or water; oil, grease, or similar liquids; sand, mud, or similar substances.)
• Improper footwear (high heels; shoes with slippery soles, such as hard leather; shoes with metal cleats.
To prevent slips, each of these risk factors must be addressed. Let’s look at prevention methods for each category.
Slippery floors — Proper floors are critical for preventing slips. Very smooth floors should not be used in areas that are likely to become wet. For example, smooth shiny tile should not be used in bathrooms. Furthermore, to decrease the slipperiness of a floor, you can apply an anti-slip coating or acid etching to the surface, or cut grooves into the floor.
Slippery materials — Often, materials or substances spilled on a surface will decreases the friction. To keep slippery materials off floors, report or clean up all spills immediately, and always use the proper cleaning supplies. Also, be sure to dry all floors after mopping. Sometimes it is not possible to clean spills immediately or to dry floors after mopping. In those instances, use a temporary sign or barrier to indicate that the floor is wet.
Shoes — A surface that may be slippery for workers wearing one type of footwear may be stable those wearing another type, so it is important to ensure employees wear proper shoes. All workers should wear low-heel shoes with non-skid soles. Rubber is usually a good non-skid sole. However, the best type of sole to prevent slips may depend on the walking surface in your work area.
When working outdoors in icy conditions, wear studded rubber pullovers that provide extra protection against slips. In addition, train employees to be cautious and alert when they are walking on potentially slippery floors. If an employee cannot navigate around a slippery area he or she should be trained to “walk like a duck.”
To walk like a duck: 1) Take short steps, i.e., steps shorter than the length of your foot. This will help to keep your feet under your center-point. 2) Point your toes outward. This will give you a wider, more stable base of support, for balance. 3) Turn gradually. Sharp turns will create a sideways force that may cause you to lose balance fall. 4) Keep both hands free to help maintain balance. Do not put your hands in your pockets.
Trips — While slips are caused by a lack of friction, a trip happens when the sole of the foot does not make full or proper contact with the walking surface. This may be caused by several factors, including objects or clutter in the walkway; defects in the walking surface (cracked or worn concrete or tiles; frayed, lifted, or curled mats or rugs; “ankle-biters” or “knee-knockers” (objects in the way at ankle or knee height); cords or cables crossing the pathway; uneven walking surfaces or changes in floor level; poor view of the walking surface due to poor lighting; or poor view of the walking surface due to carrying a load.
The easiest way to prevent workplace trips is to keep work areas clean and orderly. Clutter is work debris, tools, or other objects left in pathways that can cause a serious fall. To ensure a clutter-free workplace employees should always pick up anything they drop, use proper storage areas, and keep their work off the walking surfaces. If it’s necessary to put objects where others may walk, place hazard cones or some type of warning device near the trip hazard.
Improper maintenance is another major cause of workplace falls. Each day employees or supervisors should make sure that rugs and mats are fixed to floors with the right backing. If a rug or mat obtrudes it should be immediately repaired so that it lays flat. In addition to matting, inspect for protruding nails, splinters, cracks, loose boards, or other unstable flooring. Any issues should be repaired, or blocked off and reported to managers.
Ankle-biters and knee-knockers are the obtruding objects that cause workers to yell out profanities when they are “bitten.” If any of these objects exist in your workplace you should move them, if possible, or at the least mark them with signs or guards.
Cords and cables should be arranged so that they do not need to be placed across pathways. If a temporary cord or cable must cross a pathway, tape the cord or cable to the floor.
Some floor levels will be uneven, e.g., a few steps up to a raised platform or down to a sunken waiting area. When the level of a floor must change, it is best to use a ramp between levels. Steps should not be used. Changes in floor level should be marked with bright paint or edge strips.
Lighting should be adequate and even in areas where employees walk and work. This will help workers to spot possible tripping hazards. Burnt-out bulbs should be reported and replaced promptly.
Michael Rich is a safety writer and researcher for Safety Services Co., a supplier of safety training materials and compliance products in North America. Learn more at www.safetyservicescompany.com.