Case Study: Putting the Brakes on Slips & Falls
After an internal analysis showed slip-and-fall injuries accounted for about 40 percent of its workers' compensation costs, G4S Wackenhut decided to try out a new slip-resistant show for its employees.
- By Jerry Laws
- Jul 01, 2009
G4S Wackenhut tried out a new slip-resistant
shoe with about 800 security officers
at two offices in Cincinnati and Fort Myers,
Fla., early this year. Asked April 28 how
the trial was going, Director of Safety Frank Knapfel
said the results were excellent at that point in the trial.
"So far, all the feedback has been very, very positive,"
Knapfel said. "With the employees that we put
in the shoes, we've had zero slip and falls. Even better
than that is the comments we've been getting back
from the officers on how comfortable they are. Again,
that's just a major issue for us because we can give
them all the tools in the world, but if they're not comfortable
using them, we still have a problem.
"They seem to be wearing very well. The guys are
accepting them, and that's a big part of the battle."
He said the company decided to test the shoes with
a pilot program at those two offices for 120 days. G4S
Wackenhut hadn't done such a wear test before. An
analysis of its worker's compensation spending made
it imperative to reduce slip-and-fall injuries, Knapfel
said. "We found that slip and fall was one of our loss
drivers. We're spread out into several different divisions:
We work at nuclear plants, we work at homeowners'
associations, we work at petrochemical companies,
government agencies. So we're spread out in
every type of industry. And some of the industries in
which we work, per contracts, we provide shoes to our
employees. Looking at the loss drivers, we identified
slip and falls were a major cause of problems for us."
Slip-related cases equaled about 40 percent of the
company's comp losses, the analysis showed. The discovery
may have surprised some of the company's top
managers, Knapfel agreed. "I think it kind of woke
some people up when we did the analysis," he said.
"Normally, at any company, sometimes you don't realize
how big a problem it is. We look deeper, and we
find out it's a bigger problem than we thought. Being
proactive, we want to go ahead and put some tools in
place to help us eliminate the problem going forward."
Eric Seward, marketing manager at Superior Uniform
Group, a new entrant in the slip-resistant footwear
market, said the high cost of slip-related injuries
is frequently a surprise. The average cost of a slip-and-fall
injury is about $22,800 per incident, according to
Superior, which cites the Liberty Mutual Workplace
Safety Index as the source of the figure.
"I think there may be sometimes a disconnect between
key players at companies. Typically for an apparel
program, you're going to that buyer for that, but
he or she may not be very aware of the cost of slipand-
fall injuries as their safety director is. When you
start talking to their safety director, he says, 'Yes, we
know exactly how much that cost is, and we're definitely
interested [in lowering it]."
Employers subsidize or pay for employees' protective
footwear to varying degrees, depending on the
standard practice in each industry.
What Superior wants to communicate to industry,
Seward said, is that the cost of slip-related injuries is far higher than the cost of outfitting the
workforce in high-quality slip-resistant
footwear. Superior is targeting industries
such as health care, food service, and retail
where many employees may be on their feet
much of the day and may move frequently
across varying floor surfaces, indoors and
"That's definitely what we're trying to
get across: This is really a cost-benefit to
the company," he said. "The best way for selection
is, as Frank and Wackenhut are doing,
a wear test. Put some employees in the
shoes, let them try it on and wear it around,
let them see how it works in their environment."
Seeking to Change Employees'
The cost of slip-related injuries was certainly
big enough to get G4S Wackenhut's
attention. Based in Palm Beach Gardens,
Fla., the company has 39,000 employees
in its security service division and more
than 110 offices. Cincinnati and Fort
Myers were chosen because the analysis
showed the slip-and-fall problems were
not primarily linked to ice and snow, and
because more slips and falls were happening
in Florida than anywhere else.
Why was that? "Stepping out of cars,
and in heat shoes may wear down faster,"
"What I'm getting at is it wasn't just
an ice and snow issue for us. We had to
look at the whole program. We decided
to do it in two rotations like that. Fortunately,
when we started the program
up in Cincinnati, we did have a lot of ice
and snow for the first month and a half.
It kind of showed us that we were at least
headed in the right direction.
"We're fast approaching our third
month right now. What we were looking
to do was have about a 120-day pilot program
to see how the program performs,
and from then, make a decision if we
should roll it out to the rest of the company."
The company already had written procedures
in place and policies on "watching
where you walk" because so much of
the work involves employees conducting
patrols on clients' premises. In addition
to the new shoes, Knapfel is developing a written safety program for this topic and
creating three safety videos. The first one,
for the transportation division, was completed
in April. Video was shot for the
second one in Denver to capture walking
and driving in snow; it was expected to be
out by the end of June, he said.
Knapfel said the company hopes the
cost of the program is well below the cost
of the slip-related injuries that will be
prevented. "We're definitely hoping," he
"I think this is a big undertaking for
us; it's a very expensive undertaking.
But we're confident that giving the tools,
giving the training, and changing that
behavior is going to relate to some cost
savings on our work comp insurance,
and just trying to keep our employees
safe. We can't do business if our people
are not out at our client work sites. We're
basically in a people business. We all want
to save money, but it's a little more than
that: We want to keep our clients happy,
and we can't provide service unless we
provide the officers on site."
Speaking of the analysis, he said, "It
was a huge number because of the type
of work which we do. It's constantly
walking, patrolling, in and out of vehicles,
in and out of buildings, upstairs,
downstairs. Once we figured that out,
we thought, 'We just can't give them the
tools, such as shoes, and say, "Here, put
on the shoes and stop slipping and falling."
' We had to change the behavior for
them to recognize not only are we giving
them the tools to keep from slipping and
falling, but also to recognize other hazards
as they are doing their patrols. The
video is going is accomplish many things,
in particular walking on a patrol, driving,
in and out of vehicles, in and out of
buildings, to just get them to think about
the environment in which they're working,
besides giving them the shoes to
eliminate slip and falls."
Cheaper Isn't Better
Many employers do utilize trials, wear tests,
to evaluate protective footwear alternatives,
Superior Uniform Group's Seward said.
"One of the difficulties is, there's no official
certification or set standards here domestically
for what really qualifies as a top-grade
slip-resistant shoe," he added. "So you can
go out and buy a significantly cheaper shoe
than our product or the other competition
out there, but you're not getting the same
quality of shoe. We geared our product to
be tops in the industry for slip resistance
without sacrificing comfort, style, or durability."
"If you're really trying to provide
the safest products for your employees,"
Seward said, "that's not an area we should
This article originally appeared in the July 2009 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.