Six Steps to Help Prevent Slips and Falls at Work

If workers have to go halfway across the facility to get supplies, cleanup is less likely to happen.

No facility is exempt from slip-and-fall injuries. Even in non-manufacturing environments, slips and falls to the same level account for more than 15 percent of OSHA reportable injuries and more than 70 employee deaths each year, according to the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Slips and falls occur when there is a loss of traction between a person’s foot and the walking surface. OSHA requires workplaces to have clean, dry floors [29 CFR 1910.22(a)(2)] wherever possible but does not specify criteria for a “clean, dry” floor. In 2001, the American National Standards Institute published a standard to help quantify slip resistance (ANSI/ASSE A1264.2-2001). A static coefficient of friction (COF) of 0.50 on dry floors is recommended in this standard. The Americans with Disabilities Act specifies a static COF of 0.6 on flat surfaces and 0.8 on ramps.

Many factors can play into a slip-and-fall injury, and some -- such as a worker’s gait -- are beyond an employer’s control. Evaluating potential hazards and focusing on key areas can help to minimize the factors that are controllable.

Step One: Entrance Mats
Even in dry weather, entrance ways are a contributor to slips and falls. The U.S. Green Building Council has determined that 70 to 80 percent of the dirt in a building is tracked in when people enter the building. The council also estimated the overall cost to clean up each pound of dirt that enters a building is more than $750. In addition to the cost, as dirt and dust accumulate, they can make entrances and other floors slippery, even though they appear dry.

Rain and snow present more traditional entrance way problems. Finished flooring such as tile, linoleum, and finished wood easily becomes slippery when wet. However, concrete and epoxy-coated surfaces can be just as slick.

Using proper entrance mats can help on both wet and dry days. The Green Building Council recommends a minimum of 10-15 feet of mat in entrance ways. This length is typically long enough for people to take four to six steps on the mat before stepping off it; this is usually enough to sufficiently “dry” shoes or boots. In dry weather, it is also a long enough length to capture more than 90 percent of the dirt that is being tracked into the building.

A good entrance mat has a dual-level surface that allows dirt, rainwater, and snow to fall below the walking level of the mat. Mats with built-in wells around the edges also help to keep dirt and water safely in the mat so the floor around the mat does not become slippery.

Step Two: Keep Absorbents Handy
Walk though the facility to determine where spills or wet floors are most likely. Floors in processing areas may routinely be wet from overspray or other common leaks. Fluid dispensing and waste collection areas are also notoriously slippery because of container overfills. Loading docks are also sometimes prone to spills. Don’t overlook coffee bars, cafeterias, hallways near the water cooler, and restrooms.

Dry spills also may be a consideration. If grains, powders, or other granular products are used in the facility, they can also be a cause of slip-and-fall injuries.

Step Three: Containing Leaks and Spills
In some areas, it may be more practical to contain leaks and spills rather than absorbing them, especially if the fluids can be reused. For example, trays can be slipped under many different types of machinery or under the fittings of pipelines to catch nuisance drips before they reach an aisle way.

Containers in fluid dispensing and waste collection areas can be placed on low spill decks to help with good housekeeping efforts and to help minimize slippery floors in these areas. Captured fluids from container overfills in dispensing areas often can be reclaimed for use. In waste collection areas, fluid that misses collection funnels is safely contained in the sump of the spill deck, making cleanup easier.

Step Four: Drainage Mats
In some industries, a clean, dry floor is impossible because of the nature of the business. Fortunately, products are available to help minimize slips and falls in these areas, as well. One choice may be to purchase antifatigue mats with drainage holes. In addition to the ergonomic properties they provide, these mats also provide better traction in wet or oily areas. Most manufacturers have established both a wet and a dry COF for their mats to help buyers determine which mat will be most appropriate in their application.

For wet and oily areas, consider mats that do not have a foam backing. Foam backings will absorb liquids and create mildew and mold problems. Solvents and other chemicals also can cause the backing to delaminate from the top of the mat, ruining the investment in the product and potentially causing a greater slip-and-fall hazard.

The overall height of a mat, in combination with the drainage holes, serves to keep workers out of puddles of liquids, which also decreases the likelihood of a spill while extending the life of most work shoes and boots.

Step Five: Focus on the Feet
Having the right footwear for the job is almost as important as having the right tool for the job. Specialty footwear suppliers can help to evaluate specific needs and offer advice on the best footwear for workers throughout the facility. Many also will offer samples for workers to try.

The protective qualities of footwear (steel toes, metatarsal protection, etc.) do not have to be sacrificed in order to provide footwear that is also slip resistant. Footwear manufacturers can provide proper footwear for wet, oily, greasy, and other types of slippery surfaces. A benefit of this type of footwear is that it is specifically designed for the hazard in the area, so it often lasts longer than standard work shoes or boots that are designed for dry applications.

Step Six: Training
Discuss improvements that have been made to help reduce slip-and-fall injuries. If new footwear has been issued, tell workers how it is better than standard footwear. If absorbents or other supplies have been placed in strategic locations, demonstrate how they are to be used, where the workers should put spent materials, and whom to contact when supplies are exhausted.

Workers also should be taught to pay attention to the act of walking and how to anticipate potentially slippery areas.

This article originally appeared in the October 2008 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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