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.

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 outdoors.

"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' Behavior

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," Knapfel answered.

"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 said.

"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 be skimping."

This article originally appeared in the July 2009 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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