Accidents lead to lost productivity every year, so it’s imperative your company has a fall prevention plan.
By Alexandra Walsh
Slips, trips, and falls still continue to take a toll in terms of personal injury, workers’ compensation, lost productivity, civil liability, and even death every year.
The National Safety Council reports slips and falls are the leading cause of death in the workplace and cause more than 20% of all disabling injuries. In 2019, a recorded 880 workers died in falls. And the falls don’t have to come from high levels to lead to fatal injuries—in 2019, 146 workers were killed in falls on the same level.
Also in 2019, 244,000 workers were injured badly enough to require days off of work. Loss of productivity is often an unfortunate side effect of slips, trips, and falls. On average, workers who are injured because of a slip and fall accident spend more days away from work (eight days) than those who are injured because of other causes (six days). Nearly 30% of falls happening on the same level result in more than 21 workdays lost.
How They Happen
For accidents involving slips, trips, and falls are three physical factors that come into play: friction, momentum, and gravity. Each one plays a role. Friction is the resistance between objects. Momentum is affected by the speed and mass of an object. Gravity is the force exerted on an object by the Earth.
Slips occur from a loss of balance caused by too little friction between the feet and a walking or working surface. Loss of traction is the leading cause of workplace slips. They can be caused by wet surfaces, spills, or weather hazards like ice or snow. Slips are more likely to occur when a worker hurries, runs, wears the wrong kind of shoes, or doesn’t pay attention to where they are walking.
Trips occur whenever the foot hits an object, and the worker is moving with enough momentum to be thrown off balance. Tripping also is more likely to happen, again, when workers are in a hurry and are not paying attention to where they are going.
Falls occur whenever a worker moves too far off their center of balance. Once somebody moves forward or backward and allows their center of gravity to shift beyond their base of support—their feet—they will quickly lose their balance and fall.
OSHA maintains general industry regulations on walking/working surfaces that guard against hazards including clutter, protruding objects, and wet conditions. These hazards can harm everyone in a facility, no matter their title or job responsibilities.
Slips, trips, and falls come under the OSHA Standard for Walking-Working Surfaces, General Requirements (29 CFR 1910.22) and the Standard for the Provision of Slip Resistance on Walking/Working Surfaces (ANSI A1264.2-2012), which applies to industrial and workplace situations and sets forth common and accepted practices for providing reasonably safe walking surfaces.
Causes of slip and fall incidents are many and varied:
- Walkways that are wet, oily, or contaminated
- Floor surfaces in disrepair
- Loose or unanchored mats or rugs
- Spills on the surface
- Weather hazards like ice, rain, or snow
- Lack of employee safety training
- Wrong footwear.
OSHA’s requirements for preventing slips, trips, and falls:
- All places of employment, passageways, storerooms, and service rooms shall be kept clean and orderly and in a sanitary condition.
- The floor of every workroom shall be maintained in a clean and, so far as possible, dry condition.
- Every floor, working place, and passageway shall be kept free from protruding nails, splinters, holes, or loose boards.
- Aisles and passageways shall be kept clear and in good repair with no obstruction across or in aisles that could create a hazard.
- Permanent aisles and passageways shall be appropriately marked.
- Where mechanical handling equipment is used, aisles shall be sufficiently wide.
- Consideration shall be given to the slip resistance of footwear to maximize traction.
- Mats and runners shall be used in areas where individuals may encounter slippery conditions or foreign materials on the floor surface.
- A housekeeping program, including cleaning and maintenance procedures and employee training, shall be implemented to maintain safe walking surfaces.
- Warnings shall be provided where a slip or fall hazard has been identified.
Best practices for preventing slips, trips, and falls:
- Taking short steps on slippery surfaces to keep your center of balance under you.
- Cleaning up or reporting spills right away. Even minor spills can be dangerous.
- Not letting grease accumulate in the workplace.
- Taking extra care on smooth surfaces such as newly waxed floors.
- Being extra careful walking on loose carpeting.
- Making sure you can see where you are walking. Don’t carry loads that you cannot see over.
- Keeping walking and working areas well lit, especially at night.
- Keeping the workplace clean and tidy. Store materials and supplies in the appropriate storage areas.
- Arranging furniture and office equipment so it doesn’t interfere with walkways.
- Maintaining and keeping clean all walking areas.
- Not jumping off landings or loading docks. Use the stairs.
- Repairing or replacing stairs or handrails that are loose or broken.
When working from heights, employers must plan ahead to ensure that the job is done safely. Begin by deciding how the job will be done, what tasks will be involved, and what safety equipment may be needed to complete each task.
When estimating the cost of a job, employers should include safety equipment, and plan to have all the necessary equipment and tools available at the jobsite. Think about all the different fall hazards and then plan and select protection suitable to that work such as personal fall arrest systems.
People working 6 feet or more above lower levels are at risk for serious injury or death if they should fall. To protect these workers, employers must provide fall protection and the right equipment for the job: the right kinds of ladders, scaffolds, and safety gear.
Use the right ladder or scaffold to get the job done safely. For workers using personal fall arrest systems, provide a harness for each worker who needs to tie off to the anchor. Make sure the fall systems fit, and regularly inspect them for safe use.
The right kind of shoes and footwear is an important consideration in preventing trips, slips and falls. Consider the conditions in the walking/working environment and provide employees with slip-resistant footwear, and make it a job requirement when appropriate.
When selecting footwear for traction, consider:
- Tread design
- Tread hardness
- Oil resistance
- Chemical resistance
- Heat resistance
- Shape of sole and heel.
Every worker should be trained on proper setup and safe use of equipment they use on the job. Employers must train workers in recognizing hazards on the job:
- Train employees on established safety procedures, cleaning operations, and inspection procedures.
- Provide employees with appropriate product usage training.
- Use a handout to explain the hazards of slips, trips, and falls with employees.
- Post written accident prevention and handling policies in conspicuous places.
- Keep records of all employee training: individuals trained, subject matter covered, training materials, and date of training.
- Consider a reward system for employees who promote positive safety procedures.
- Review OSHA 1910.22 (Walking/Working Surfaces) and explain to employees what is expected of them to prevent accidents.
- Ask employees to suggest ways to protect themselves from slip, trip, and fall hazards.
- Discuss with employees the right choice of shoes to help prevent slips, trips, and falls.
- Investigate starting a company program for purchasing shoes or reimbursement.
- Show new employees areas that might create slip, trip, or fall hazards.
Slips, trips, and falls generally result from some kind of unintended or unexpected change in the contact between the feet and the ground or walking surface. This fact shows that good housekeeping, quality of walking surfaces (flooring), selection of proper footwear, and appropriate walking and climbing at the worksite are critical for preventing fall incidents.