NIOSH International Conference Spotlights Fall Prevention Advances

On May 18-20, NIOSH presented its International Conference on Fall Prevention and Protection 2010 in Morgantown, W.Va. About 200 registrants were from six continents. Sessions covered global strategic goals; slip, trip, and fall; fall from elevation; and research to practice. The papers are available on CD at no charge from [email protected]

A paper by Ohdo et al. of Japan stated that scaffold falls had been cut by 80 percent by using improved design and assembly rules. Falls in construction cause more than 50 percent of the fatal falls in the United States and 70 percent in Korea.

The rest of this report concerns slip, trip, and fall parts of the conference. Some key words from these sessions are obesity, aging, sustainability, and gender.

Obesity not only leads to increased friction demands (of order 17 percent for overweight but not obese people, according to author Jian Liu of Liberty Mutual Research), but more expensive injuries. Cost per major injury is increasing rapidly compared to total health care costs. Part of the reason is that impact forces are increased due to a heavier victim's greater momentum on hitting the floor, where much of the impact is often absorbed by brittle body parts: arm, knee, hip, and skull.

Aging often leads to slower reaction times, deteriorating balance, and bones embrittled by osteoporosis. The aging population of many developed countries is likely to lead to greatly increased slip and fall costs in the near future. Mazda in Japan has found that five minutes of limbering-up exercises before starting the work day can decrease falls of elderly workers.

A test is performed for floor surface slipperiness.Sustainability applies to both flooring and footwear. My own presentation detailed a test method, developed by McDonalds Restaurants, for ensuring that flooring will retain its slip resistance through a reasonable service life rather than losing it in a matter of weeks after the building opens. The evaluation involves a standard abrasion of a sample with a pendulum friction test (shown in this photo) both before and after abrasion. Flooring with Sustainable Slip Resistance is available in tile, natural stone, and resilient types.

Steve Thorpe of the British Government's Health and Safety Laboratory is investigating the sustainability of anti-slip properties of footwear. Their previous studies have shown that the most effective anti-slip treads, at least when new, are made by Shoes for Crews, Dickies, and Keuka Café. Studies in Finland also rated Shoes for Crews highest. Thorpe said that the EU standard footwear friction test can and too often does give misleading results.

The required annual risk assessment by UK businesses does not usually include floor friction, but it should, according to Thorpe, due to the financial impact of slips. Floors that get wet or otherwise lubricated in use should have a wet Pendulum Test Value (PTV) of 36 or higher. If the PTV is less than 24, action is needed. Thorpe said slip resistance gets little attention from both architects and building inspectors.

The Non-Slip 21 process, an anti-slip floor treatment, is used in commercial, institutional, and industrial properties to minimize slip and fall risks.Gender has a significant effect on slip and fall risk, with women having higher risk in many instances. Their bones, after age 50, are often weakened by osteoporosis. They may change footwear several times in a typical day, creating a subconscious confusion and inconsistent biofeedback due to different levels of side support, style, and heel and sole height. There are far more falls on stairs by females than by males. Many home handrails, though in conformance with the International Building Code, are hard to grasp firmly -- especially for smaller hands.

For both men and women, tweeting and texting while walking present added new hazards.

In cleaning greasy floors, contact time of the detergent solution with the floor is very important, a fact not known by many cleaning personnel. Also, with enzymatic floor cleaning chemicals, the water temperature must not be too high or the effectiveness will be destroyed.

The National Floor Safety Institute is beginning a campaign of slip awareness. Videos can be viewed on

Posted by George Sotter on May 24, 2010