Wet surfaces account for a significant portion of injuries reported by state agencies. Some of the most frequently reported types of surfaces where these injuries occur include food preparation areas.

Plan Ahead to Get the Job Done Safely

Preventing slips & falls is the only way to keep your company on firm ground.

It's probably happened to most of us, at least once or twice. Maybe it's a sliver of ice in the driveway, your son’s toy car left in the living room, or that cleanup in aisle 6 that didn't happen fast enough last time you went shopping. And for the most part, the result might have been a stubbed toe, a bruised rear end, or maybe a little bit of embarrassment. But the event never really seemed life-threatening.

Now, picture a slip and fall when you're carrying 100-pound bags of cement or on a catwalk crossing over a vat of molten steel, balancing on a 50-foot extension ladder, or something as simple as an office worker tripping on an uneven sidewalk while getting the mail. That is when the game changes, and not for the good.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, slips, trips, and falls make up the majority of general industry accidents, which account for:

  • 15 percent of all accidental deaths per year, the second-leading cause behind motor vehicles
  • About 25 percent of all reported injury claims per fiscal year
  • More than 95 million lost work days per year—about 65 percent of all work days lost

In general, slips and trips occur due to a loss of traction between the shoe and the walking surface or an inadvertent contact with a fixed or moveable object that may lead to a fall. There are a variety of situations that may cause slips, trips, and falls, according to DOL:

  • Wet or greasy floors
  • Dry floors with wood dust or powder
  • Uneven walking surfaces
  • Polished or freshly waxed floors
  • Loose flooring, carpeting, or mats
  • Transition from one floor type to another
  • Missing or uneven floor tiles and bricks
  • Damaged or irregular steps; no handrails
  • Sloped walking surfaces
  • Shoes with wet, muddy, greasy, or oily soles
  • Clutter
  • Electrical cords or cables
  • Damaged ladder steps
  • Ramps and gangplanks without skid-resistant surfaces
  • Metal surfaces—dock plates, construction plates

Take a look at your job site with this list in hand. If you see nothing that fits this list, then you are a credit to workplace safety. But chances are most companies will check off several items, and for every item checked off, the collateral damage will be escalating insurance rates, an Experience Mod trending in the wrong direction, and a big target on your company’s back when OSHA pays a visit.

So what to do? Okay, here's job safety 101—wear good-quality, non-slip shoes. You don't need a qualified Risk Advisor to tell you that. Chances are your mother has been saying it since you were six years old. Unfortunately, Mom never worked in a fast-paced workplace where around every corner lurked a virtual minefield of potential hazards, whether it's a construction site, manufacturing plant, grocery store, hotel resort, or the kitchen of the local Arby's. But if she did—and Mom always knows best—here is some advice she might share:

1. Create a clean workplace environment.
Safety and housekeeping go hand-in-hand, which will reduce the chance of employee injuries, rising insurance costs, and OSHA fines. This should be an ongoing procedure that is simply done as part of each worker's daily performance. Know what needs to be done and who's going to do it (which also comes in handy when something isn’t done).

2. Eliminate wet or slippery surfaces.
Wet surfaces account for a significant portion of injuries reported by state agencies. Some of the most frequently reported types of surfaces where these injuries occur include food preparation areas.

It's really all about traction. When there is anything between the bottom of a shoe and what the shoe should be resting on, slips and falls happen. Do what it takes to eliminate the cause. Traction on outdoor surfaces can change considerably when weather conditions change. Traction control procedures should be constantly monitored for their effectiveness.

Keep all floors free of moisture. Seems like common sense, but if it were, you wouldn't be reading this article. Use adhesive striping material or anti-skid paint whenever possible, as well as moisture-absorbent mats. And make sure they have non-slide backing material so that when a worker steps on it, it doesn’t turn into Aladdin’s flying carpet.

3. Clear all obstacles in aisles and walkways.
Injuries can also result from trips caused by obstacles, clutter, materials, and equipment in aisles, corridors, entranceways, and stairwells. Put policies or procedures in place for keeping the area clean and free from clutter. Also, avoid stringing cords, cables or air hoses across hallways or in any designated aisle.

4. Create and maintain proper lighting.
Poor lighting in the workplace has long been associated with an increase in accidents. Make sure to keep work areas well lit and clean. And when you walk into a dark room, use common sense—turn on the light first.

5. Wear proper shoes.
We discussed earlier how the proper shoe can prevent falls. Unfortunately, improper shoes, or those worn down, have the ability to cause trips, slips, and falls. Whenever a fall-related injury is investigated, the footwear needs to be evaluated to see whether it contributed to the incident.

The High Cost of Fall Injuries
It's also a good practice to educate employees about the danger of falling at home. Recently a young man in our community was in his attic, lost his balance, and fell through the ceiling, landing on the garage floor below. He sustained a broken back, several broken ribs, and a serious head injury. He will be off work for several months for sure and possibly never return due the extent of his brain injury.

I've come to the conclusion that when someone gets injured everyone gets hurt—the person, his family, and employer, and it really doesn't matter whether it happens at home or at work. Last year in Michigan alone, there were 43 people killed on the job, marking the highest number of fatalities in the past 10 years. Twenty-one of those were from falls, which is three times more than the year before.

According the National Safety Council, falls are the third leading cause of unintentional death in the United States, accounting for nearly 32,000 deaths in 2014, and the risk of falling increases with age. Accidents as a result of an employee slipping and falling can happen in virtually any industry, with some being more susceptible than others. In 2015, there were 350 fatal falls to a lower level out of 937 construction fatalities (BLS data).

These resulting injuries often come with large expenditures. Liberty Mutual estimates more than $61 billion per year is spent on disability claims in America, with $15.57 billion, or 25 percent, resulting from falls (16.4 percent of falls to same level, 8.7 percent falls to a lower level). It is noteworthy that there is a category of slips and trips without a fall that cost another $2.35 billion, or 3.8 percent.

While the monetary cost is important, we can never lose sight of the effect a loss of life or disability has on family and friends. No amount of money can replace a husband, mother, brother, daughter or best friend.

Finally, you need to be aware that OSHA takes the topic of slips and falls very seriously. Since 2012, OSHA has partnered with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA) -- Construction Sector on the Fall Prevention Campaign to raise awareness among workers and employers about common fall hazards in construction and how falls from ladders, scaffolds, and roofs can be prevented. Here is what OSHA advises:

1. Plan ahead to get the job done safely.
When working from heights, employers must plan projects 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 of the necessary equipment and tools available at the construction site. For example, in a roofing job, think about all of the different fall hazards, such as holes or skylights and leading edges, then plan and select fall protection suitable to that work, such as personal fall arrest systems (PFAS).

2. Provide the right equipment.
Workers who are 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, including the right kinds of ladders, scaffolds, and safety gear.

Use the right ladder or scaffold to get the job done safely. For roof work, if workers use personal fall arrest systems (PFAS), provide a harness for each worker who needs to tie off to the anchor. Make sure the PFAS fits and regularly inspect it for safe use.

3. Train everyone to use the equipment safely.
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.

Workers are the backbone of any organization—and on the front lines of production. They also face the greatest risks, no matter what industry they might work in, whether they're sitting in a computer chair or operating heavy equipment. And while the risks vary, it is the job of safety professionals to protect workers, which also ensures production keeps moving and decreases disability, medical, and workers' comp costs.

This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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