Preventing Slips, Trips and Falls in the Workplace

Introduction

Each year Liberty Mutual Safety Index ranks the top 10 causes of the most serious, nonfatal workplace injuries by their direct cost.  The top ten leading causes in the 2017 index account for $49.9 billion, or 83.4% of the total $59.9 billion. Slips, trips, and falls are in the top ten and account for $19.82 billion in direct cost. Falls on the same level cost $10.62 billion, falls to a lower level cost $5.5 billion, and slips or trips without a fall cost $3.70 billion in direct cost.  From 2014 through 2016, 11,716,800 private industry recordable cases were reported to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, including 714,970 nonfatal cases involving days away (from work) and 2,342 fatal cases by slips, trips and falls. According to a 2014 survey of safety professionals conducted by Safety Daily Advisor “Understanding How Human Factors Affect Slips, Trips, and Falls,” the top three are 54% human factor, 25% Wet or Slippery Surfaces, and 16% Housekeeping Issues.

Human Factors

If humans were infallible, slips trips and falls would be eliminated by simply dealing with the physical factors.  Unfortunately, that is not true and complacency, rushing, stress and distraction are human factors that contribute to slip, trip, and fall incidents. The Webster dictionary defines complacency as “self-satisfaction especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual danger or deficiencies.” It is easy to become complacent when you do the same task day after day without incident or injury. Complacency is one of the biggest behavior challenges and sadly, it often takes a severe incident to jolt us out of complacency. Employees rush through tasks for numerous reasons. As humans sometimes, our competitive nature gets the best of us, or we become overwhelmed by our work load feeling the need to catch-up. Despite the reason for rushing, if often leads to poor decision making such as not donning the required personal protective equipment. Our culture places a high value on multi-tasking, but we need to realize the hazards we expose ourselves to when we are constantly distracted. The electronic devices we cannot take our eyes off, or even replaying an argument in one’s mind are both equally distracting.  

slips, trips, and fallsWet or Slippery Surfaces

Slips and trips occur due to a loss of traction between the shoe and the walking/working surface or from contact with an object potentially leading to a fall. Situations that may cause slips, trips and falls in a shop environment are coating overspray build up on the floor, oil or grease on the floor from poorly maintained equipment, steel shot abrasive leaking onto the shop floor from automated blast cleaning equipment, or poorly maintained walkways. Situations in the field that may lead to a slip, trip or fall incident include sloped walking surfaces, uneven wet, muddy surfaces, adverse weather conditions or poorly maintained walkways. Footwear can play a key role in preventing or causing an incident. The slickness of the soles and the type of heels worn should be routinely examined and shoelaces need to be tied correctly. 

Housekeeping Issues

Housekeeping issues derive from not planning, assigning responsibility, and developing and implementing a housekeeping program. Housekeeping issues include:

  • Unmarked spills and wet areas
  • Debris present in walkways
  • Unsecured materials
  • Poor lighting

Lack of planning leads to an inability to know what needs to be done and who is responsible for verifying the issues are addressed. Establishing a housekeeping program that establishes procedures as a part of the daily routine is an effective way to address issues that may lead to slips, trips and falls.

Preventative Measures

Eliminating human factors associated with slips, trips and falls relies on the challenging task of changing human behavior. Consider what employees are required to do and whether the environment around them supports the behavior. For example, organizations that do not realistically schedule projects, don’t provide the necessary equipment, or train employees to perform tasks, create stress-filled environments, causing workers to rush. Employees in leadership roles that ignore or even encourage workers to take short cuts instead of enforcing standard operating procedures creates an environment of normalization of deviance; and organizations that do not develop and implement procedures to monitor and correct complacent employees create an environment of distraction.  One way to combat these issues is to rely on the strengths of the existing safety culture, then focus on a few critical behavioral shifts. When undesirable behaviors are observed, formal and informal intervention techniques can be used to make employees aware of the unacceptable behaviors. Preventive measures can also include observing improved housekeeping practices by workers during a site audit.

Preventing wet or slippery surface starts with the planning phase of a field project or facility layout.

Field Projects

  • Identify travel paths that avoid areas where water or ice may accumulate through the duration of the project.
  • Identify the type of working surfaces, and consider how the project activities and weather will affect them. As an example, develop a plan to maintain a scaffolding deck free from ice, snow, rain, or other debris.
  • Stage equipment, material and hoses
  • Develop and implement a housekeeping program

Fabrication or Blast & Paint Shops

  • Use moisture-absorbent mats with beveled edges in entrance areas
  • Display wet floor signs as needed
  • Apply anti-skid adhesion tape in troublesome areas
  • Clean up spills immediately
  • Create and maintain proper lighting in accordance with 29 CFR 1926.56 (Illumination)
  • Avoid creating obstacles in aisles and walkways (cords, hoses, cables)
  • Conduct periodic inspections to identify slip, trip, or fall hazards
  • Wear proper shoes for the type of walking/working surface accessed by employees

Housekeeping issues can be prevented by implementing a housekeeping program that requires employees to:

  • Report and cleanup all spills and leaks
  • Maintain aisles and exits clear of items
  • Install mirrors and warning signs to help with blind spots
  • Replace worn, ripped or damaged flooring
  • Install anti-slip flooring in areas that cannot always be cleaned
  • Use drip pans and guards
  • Plan ahead – know what needs to be done, and establish housekeeping procedures as a part of a daily routine
  • Assign an individual or team responsibility for housekeeping

Summary

Slips, trips and falls in the workplace can be very costly, but are easily preventable through effective housekeeping and proper planning, and by eliminating distractions. Dedicating time for housekeeping can create a few hours of “non-productive” time each week, but can save weeks and months of lost time.

chris peightal kta

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