Note all transition areas on the floor plan and take pictures as a reminder of what floor surfaces are on each side of the transition. (New Pig Corp. photo)

Identifying Same-Level Slip and Fall Hazards in the Workplace

Taking the time to identify floor safety hazards in all areas in and around a facility is the first step toward avoiding these common injuries.

Job hazard analyses (JHAs) are used to identify a variety of safety hazards. They're a proactive means of preventing many different types of workplace injuries and illnesses. One area that often escapes a JHA is floor safety. Although slips, trips, and falls to the same level are the second-leading cause of workers' compensation claims and lost work-time injuries (sprains and strains are number one), much of what happens with floor safety programs in the workplace is still very reactive.

Same-level slip, trip and fall hazards can exist anywhere at a facility. This means that unless these hazards are identified, every step that is taken throughout the work day could hold a potential risk. Slips, trips and falls aren't limited to the production area or a wet process. They can occur anywhere, can happen any time, and can injure anyone from an executive with 30 years of service to a newly hired janitor.

Unlike chemical or process hazards that are specific to an industry sector, same-level slip, trip, and fall hazards are similar in nearly every facility. Because slips, trips, and falls can happen anywhere, it's best to take a facility-wide approach to identify not only the obvious hazards, but also the hazards that may not have surfaced yet.

It's never a bad idea to review past injury reports to look for specific problem areas, but because slips and falls are embarrassing, many people are reluctant to tell anyone about a slip or fall that doesn't result in an injury. So injury reports should not be relied upon as the sole indicator of where floor safety problems may be located.

Walkway Audits
A formal walkway audit is one way to determine which walking surfaces may contribute to a slip and fall injury. To perform an audit, a walkway auditor uses a device called a tribometer to measure the Coefficient of Friction (COF) of walking surfaces throughout the facility. The results provide a quantitative analysis that helps determine which areas may need more attention to improve the COF and lower the likelihood of an incident.

Less formal audits can be conducted internally. The main tools that are needed are a floor plan or diagram of the facility that includes outdoor areas, (parking lots, sidewalks, porticos, etc.), a notepad and pen to take notes, a camera, and a ruler.

Deep cracks, potholes, and parking blocks are some of the hazards that are easy to spot in parking lots and other paved outdoor areas. Height variations in a sidewalk--especially at seams or where there are cracks--may be a little harder to spot but are worth checking out, because a height difference of as little as ¼ inch is enough to cause a tripping hazard. This is where the ruler comes in handy for measurements.

Consider landscaping, including trees. Bushes, shrubs, flowers or other items that encroach upon sidewalks can create hazards because they encourage people to walk in areas other than the designated sidewalks. When landscaping elements are low to the ground, they can also be an unseen tripping hazard for people carrying large items or not paying attention to where they are walking. Trees that shed their foliage in the autumn or that shed fruit, nuts, berries, or blossoms throughout their growing season need to be included in routine housekeeping operations to ensure that whatever falls from the tree doesn't present a slip hazard on sidewalks, parking lots, or outdoor common areas.

Snow and ice removal is another facet of outdoor walkway safety. Whether it is done by in-house staff or by a hired contractor, determine what plans are in place to remove snow and ice in a timely manner–before employees arrive the for the day and before they leave at the end of the day.

Look at the lighting in the parking lot and around the building late in the evening or early in the morning. Lighting enhances security, but it is also important in walkway safety because it makes it easier to identify hazards that can be hidden in shadows or by dim light.

Entrances and Other Transition Areas
A transition area is any area where the walking surface changes. It may be from a concrete sidewalk to tiled entrance foyer, a carpeted office to an epoxy-coated production floor, a diamond-plated catwalk to a wooden staircase–or any other combination of surfaces. Transition areas are a common place for slips and falls, especially when the transition is drastic and when someone's attention is diverted.

Good lighting in transition areas, especially entrances, is important because it helps people to see the difference and adjust their gait, if necessary, to accommodate the new surface. Note all transition areas on the floor plan and take pictures as a reminder of what floor surfaces are on each side of the transition.

If it can be arranged, audit entrances on a rainy or snowy day because it is a lot more common for people to slip and fall on wet floors than on dry ones. Most common entrance flooring, such as stone, wood and tile, is not a problem when the weather is dry but can become very slippery when wet.

Where mats are used, review any plan that may be in place for replacing mats that become saturated with rain or snow, those that are buckled, warped, or frayed, and mats that are too short to completely dry a person's feet before they step off the mat.

Cafeterias and Coffee Bars
Flooring in cafeterias, break rooms, and drink service areas is often smooth and easy to clean because food and drink spills are somewhat expected in these areas. Like entrances, these smooth surfaces are most often fine when they are dry but become slippery when wet.

Count the trash cans in these areas. Are there an adequate number, or are discarded items piled on top of or beside the cans? Is there a good stock of paper towels or napkins to wipe up small drips and spills? Review the cleaning schedule for common areas. If the floors are mopped during the day, adequate time should be left for the floor to dry completely between shifts or breaks so that employees aren't walking on wet floors.

Housekeeping and Floor Maintenance
Floors can become more slippery as they age. Slippery floors also can result from improper cleaning techniques. Obtain the instructions for floor cleaning chemicals that are used throughout the facility and determine whether or not they are being used correctly. It is not uncommon for the wrong type of cleaner to be used on a floor, mixed in the wrong ratio, or with the incorrect water temperature. This can lead to floors that are inadequately cleaned or left with residues that make the floor more slippery over time.

Production Areas
Even OSHA acknowledges that not every floor can be perfectly clean and dry all of the time. Machines leak and many processes involve liquids that overspray or spill. Where walkways are slippery, employees who regularly work in these areas usually accommodate the conditions by adjusting their gait and taking deliberate steps to avoid slips and falls.

Consider absorbent and anti-fatigue matting and employee footwear in production areas and look at housekeeping and daily cleaning routines to see whether they are adequate to help prevent slips and falls.

Floor Safety in a New Light
Taking the time to identify floor safety hazards in all areas in and around a facility is the first step toward avoiding common injuries. Even though same-level slips, trips, and falls don't seem to receive the same attention as other workplace injuries, the results can be just as debilitating, especially as the workforce continues to age. Identifying floor safety hazards and creating a plan to proactively prevent slip, trip, and fall incidents can help lower insurance premiums and, more importantly, avoid one of the most common causes of lost work-time injuries.

This article originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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