Slip and Fall Incidents: Often Overlooked, Always Dangerous

Contributed by Safety Management Group

When thinking about all of the potential hazards on a jobsite, it’s human nature to dismiss slips and falls as something that’s comparatively minor. But these types of incidents are anything but minor.

In fact, the National Safety Council reports that slip and fall accidents cost U.S. companies as much as $70 billion in medical expenses and workers’ compensation claims every year. The National Floor Safety Institute says that typical compensation claim resulting from a slip and fall accident amounts to $4,000, and when a third party such as a visiting customer is involved, liability awards for a claim average $60,000 to $100,000.

Beyond the financial cost, slip and fall accidents are a leading cause of lost time from work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics cites them as the cause of 18 percent of lost-time incidents. Fortunately, most slip and fall accidents can be prevented.

What are slip accidents?

What we know as slip accidents result when a lack of traction between an individual’s footwear and the surface upon which he or she is standing or walking leads either or both feet to slip out of position. That knocks the individual out of balance, causing a fall and the potential for injury when falling into equipment or other objects.

Often, slip accidents are caused by water, ice, or oily substances on hard-surfaced flooring. They can also be caused by mats or rugs that aren’t well-anchored and move when someone steps on them. Another common cause is a surface on which traction differs from area to area.

What about trip accidents?

Trip accidents are slightly different from slips in that they result from an individual’s foot colliding unexpectedly with another object. Again, the result is that the person is knocked off-balance, leading to a fall.

Any change in the walking surface can contribute to a trip accident, with uneven surfaces, wrinkles in carpeting, loose cables, and small objects being major contributors. The risk of trip accidents increases when lighting is poor or the individual cannot see the walking surface because of obstructions.

Trip accidents often occur where elevation changes. It’s hard to believe, but a change of just a half-inch can be enough to cause someone to trip. When the difference in elevation is greater and the individual is not aware of it, his or her front foot will go lower than expected, causing a loss of balance and a fall. If the difference is sideways, the individual’s ankle may twist, also resulting in a fall.

Prevention through good housekeeping

The most effective way to prevent against slip and trip accidents is through proper housekeeping. That includes responding to spills and other wet areas to either clean them or mark them so workers will exercise greater caution. It also includes removing debris and obstacles, and keeping floors swept and mopped.

Another aspect of housekeeping is paying attention to potential obstacles. That includes everything from properly covering wires and cables that go across places where people will walk, to securing carpets and mats with tape and other methods, and ensuring that people close the bottom drawers of file cabinets and other fixtures that may jut out in to the walking path. Making sure that adequate light is available helps, too.

Because many slips and falls happen in outdoor settings such as parking lots, housekeeping efforts need to address ice, snow, wet areas, and places where surfaces have different heights. Here again, lighting can be helpful in preventing accidents.

Engineering solutions

With any safety issue, one of the best approaches is to eliminate or mitigate the hazard through engineering. If a particular area of flooring is prone to causing slips or trips, making changes to the flooring may be the solution. One approach is to replace the flooring itself with a material that is better-suited for the conditions. Another is to improve traction by installing abrasive strips or some kind of abrasive coating material. Even something as simple as an absorbent mat may reduces slips and trips in areas such as entryways that often become wet.

Choose the right footwear

Workers can also reduce the risk by choosing footwear that is designed to provide greater traction. That is especially true in settings where surfaces can become oily or wet. There is a wide variety of choices for footwear, so be sure to select the best one for the hazard and the nature of the work.

Employee actions help, too

You can use safety training to help employees understand what they can do to reduce the risk of becoming the victim of a slip and fall accident. For example, they can be reminded to take their time and watch the surfaces they walk upon. Keeping feet pointed slightly outward can also be helpful.

It’s just as important to ensure that workers know what they can do to keep from creating hazards in the workplace. Avoiding clutter and keeping walking areas clear benefits everyone. Finally, employees should report any slip or trip incident, no matter how minor, because doing so will draw attention to deficiencies. Correcting those minor problems could head off more serious situations.

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