Wipe Out Slips, Trips, and Falls

Even specifically designated "slip-resistant" footwear will wear out over time, making it a potential slip hazard.

SLIPS, trips, and falls to the same level are a leading cause of workplace injury and death. According to the National Safety Council, more than 300,000 injuries and 1,500 deaths each year result from slip, trip, and fall accidents. The average cost for each accident is about $6,700 in lost compensation and medical costs.

Preventing these injuries and deaths doesn't have to be difficult. Evaluation of walking areas, coupled with diligent housekeeping and training, will help keep everyone on their feet.

Causes of Slips, Trips, and Falls
Slips
are the result of a loss of friction between a person's footwear and the walking surface. The most common causes are wearing inappropriate footwear for the environment and wet and/or slippery surfaces.

With the myriads of floor surfaces available, from highly polished marble entranceways to heavy duty, grit-impregnated polymer coatings used to coat floors prone to slippery overspray, people are likely to experience a variety of walking surfaces throughout the day. Duties also vary. Where an office worker may be able to wear leather-soled dress shoes, line workers may require steel-toed boots with specially formulated, slip-resistant soles. No single shoe or boot will fit all situations. Plus, even specifically designated "slip-resistant" footwear will wear out over time, making it a potential slip hazard.

Normally safe floor surfaces can become hazardous when anything--liquid or solid--is spilled or sprayed on them; or when water, salt, or dirt is tracked into the building as a result of adverse weather conditions. Sugar spilled onto a hardwood floor at the coffee island can be as slippery to a person wearing high heels or shoes with smooth soles as an ice patch is to anyone walking on a sidewalk.

Trips occur when a person's foot strikes an obstacle in a walkway. The obstacle could be uneven pavement or flooring tiles; or it could be an object, such as the corner of a box or cart that wasn't tucked back into its storage area, a broom handle, loose packaging materials, or a tool that wasn't put back into the toolbox after use.

People tend to trip because they are diverted from the task of walking. They could be carrying something that obstructs their view, talking to someone else, or just daydreaming. New, unfamiliar footwear--especially shoes with thick or heavy soles--also can cause a person to trip or stumble.

Regular floor maintenance and housekeeping are key components in helping prevent trip hazards. Uneven flooring should be well marked and replaced or repaired as soon as possible. Housekeeping procedures can be incorporated into safety training so that all employees are aware of common hazards.

Falls to the same level are a result of either a slip or trip and occur when a person loses his center of gravity. By minimizing slip and trip hazards, falls should likewise decrease.

Identifying and Fixing Problem Areas
OSHA requires employers to keep work areas clean and safe: "The floor of every workroom shall be maintained in a clean and, so far as possible, a dry condition. Where wet processes are used, drainage shall be maintained, and false floors, platforms, mats, or other dry standing places should be provided where practicable." (29 CFR 1910.22(a)(2).) But before employees can be expected to buy into "another safety program," steps need to be taken to minimize any known hazards.

The Facility Walk-Through
Take a walk through the entire facility, starting in parking areas. Is the pavement in the parking lot mostly level? Are sidewalks even? Is concrete brushed to help minimize slipping? Where practical, mark tripping hazards with brightly colored paint to make them more visible. Consider having uneven surfaces ground, texturized, or re-paved to make them level and less slip-and trip-prone.

Are entrance mats used inside and outside of all entrances? Not only do entrance mats help cut down on the amount of dirt dragged into a building, but good matting also helps absorb rainwater and snow that is tracked in, helping to keep floors dry and safer. A general rule for entrance matting is that it should be long enough for someone to take three to four steps on it before stepping off the mat. Make sure the matting is in good condition with no curling at the edges. Check the backing to make sure it securely hugs the floor and doesn't bunch up when doors are opened or people walk across it.

Common areas, such as washrooms, cafeterias, coffee bars, and breakrooms, should also be inspected for floor safety. Are paper towels and cleanup materials readily available for small food or drink spills?Are trashcans large enough to accommodate waste volumes? Are these areas maintained or inspected on a regular basis? Are the cleaners used to clean the floors in these areas specifically formulated to keep that particular flooring safe and non-slip? A floor cleaner that works great on concrete may make a linoleum floor slippery, or vice versa. Check with suppliers or janitorial service contractors to make sure the correct products are being used for each type of flooring in the facility.

Storage areas are other common spaces that often go unchecked. Is there adequate storage space to accommodate all of the goods in that area, or are items routinely left on the floor or in aisle ways? Re-arranging shelving or designating more space for storage, when possible, will help prevent trips in these areas.

During the facility walk-through, note the lighting conditions in all areas. Dim lighting in hallways or work areas can hide spills or uneven surfaces and contribute to slip-and-fall injuries. Additional lighting or higher-voltage bulbs can help correct these situations.

In work areas, are floors generally wet or dry? Process overspray and leaky machinery can cause aisle ways and work areas to become very slippery. Non-slip floor paints, grease-resistant rubber matting that raises workers off the floor surface, and absorbents can be used to help keep walking surfaces safer. If absorbents are used, consider replacing loose absorbents, such as clay, with mats or socks. Loose absorbents are labor intensive and, when left on the floor throughout the day, get tracked to other areas--carrying liquids with them that can be re-deposited on otherwise clean floors, creating slip hazards in other areas.

Checking Footwear
After checking all physical areas of a facility, perform a footwear check. What kind of footwear are employees wearing? Has a policy been developed regarding floor safety and proper footwear for each area of the facility? When developing or modifying a footwear policy, consider safety for all employees. For example, if office workers routinely or occasionally pass through processing areas, high heels or leather-soled shoes may present a hazard.

For areas where slip hazards are routine, stock absorbents nearby to encourage quick clean up. In areas prone to spills--such as loading docks, fluid dispensing areas, and waste collection stations--stock barricades, absorbents, or spill kits to assist in fast spill response.

Consider creating a team consisting of members from all departments when developing or modifying floor care or footwear policies. Having input from people from different areas will help ensure all hazards are covered.

Playing it Safe
After problem areas have been identified and fixed and procedures have been developed, everyone needs to be trained. Show them pictures of common "problem areas" and teach them how to resolve problems.

  • Take everyone on a tour of the facility and point out the locations of spill response materials, brooms, barricades, and any other tool that can be used to keep floors safe. Encourage everyone to identify and report hazards so they can be corrected.
  • If the company works with a footwear supplier, ask the supplier if it is able to provide additional safety training. Good suppliers will be more than happy to oblige.
  • Also consider having a chiropractor or other health care professional discuss the dynamics of falls. As funny as it may sound, many actually can teach people how to fall properly to minimize injury.
  • Instruct employees to use carts when transporting large loads so they will have full view of walking surfaces. If this is not feasible, consider a buddy system so the person carrying the items can be alerted to slip, trip, and fall hazards.
  • Allowing ample time in everyone's schedule for routine cleanup and maintenance will also help ensure areas stay clean and safe.

By taking the time to correct known hazards and training everyone to be aware of walking conditions, you can reduce slip-and-fall injuries significantly in all areas of a facility.

This article originally appeared in the September 2003 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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