Taking Control of Slip, Trip, and Fall Hazards
One in five lost-work-time incidents is a slip, trip, or fall. Control this common hazard with some no-nonsense, easily implemented strategies.
Most falls on a level surface don’t result in a recordable injury but merely a bump, some bruises, or perhaps scattered papers and spilled coffee. But sometimes these falls can and do cause more serious injuries. A fall on a level surface can result in broken elbows and knees, fractured ankles and ribs, and even head injuries. In fact, falls on a level surface account for 20 percent of lost-work-time incidents in the United States. The good news is that you can take simple steps to prevent these accidents in your workplace.
Why Workers Slip Up
The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) recommends that you look at four factors that can contribute to slip, trip, and fall hazards:
1. Worker factors. Workers may create hazards by using equipment improperly—for example, by dragging cords across walkways or setting up ladders in unsafe locations. They also might suffer from fatigue, making them more prone to falls. And workers can engage in risk-taking behaviors that put them at increased risk, such as running in the workplace or carrying large items up or down stairs.
2. Machinery/equipment factors. Machinery that is improperly designed or maintained may create slip, trip, and fall hazards. For example, a poorly designed piece of equipment could have projections near the floor that create a tripping hazard; a poorly maintained machine may leak hydraulic fluid, creating a slip hazard.
3. Environmental factors. The work environment may include slip and fall hazards. These could be seasonal or weather-related (as when ice forms on sidewalks in winter), or they may result from poor maintenance of the overall environment (as when burned-out light bulbs are not replaced or damaged flooring is not repaired). Some environmental hazards are intermittent. For example, while sprinklers are operating, workers might walk through puddles, track water into the workplace, and leave floors slick.
4. Management practices. All of the factors above can be affected positively or negatively by management practices. If management doesn’t train workers in basic walking and working surface safety, workers may not report burned-out lights, clean spills quickly, or inspect ladders before each use. If management does not provide adequate staffing or budget for maintenance, machinery and equipment could become unsafe.
Don’t Fall Down on Safety
To prevent slips, trips, and falls, you should also:
- Pay attention to high-traffic areas. One of the more common hazards is changes in flooring surfaces, such as from carpet to tile. Try to ensure that walking surfaces are predictable, with good traction.
- Control the pace. Very few workplaces require employees to run; if it’s not necessary, workers should walk.
- Require appropriate footwear. Steel-toed shoes can protect a worker’s feet from above, but shoes with proper soles for the workplace protect the whole worker from hazards below. In many workplaces, slip-resistant soles are a good idea; in others, spiked or studded soles provide the best possible traction. Don’t permit workers to wear inappropriate shoes.
- Clean up your act. All walking surfaces should be kept free of spills, especially spills of water, oil, slick powders, and any other substance that may make the floor slippery.
- Hang a sign. If workers must walk over slick or uneven surfaces, warn them with appropriate signage. Provide temporary signage to warn workers of wet or damaged floors.
- Take a report. Encourage workers to report any hazards they observe that they cannot immediately remove, such as broken tiles or floors that are wet because of roof leaks.
- Light the way. Workers are more likely to take a misstep when lighting is poor.
- Dry it up. Some areas are prone to moisture. Control slippery hazards in these areas with adequate drainage systems and pumps or elevated walking surfaces. For example, use grated flooring to give workers a high-traction work surface while letting moisture fall through.