These common events can cause severe injury. Their prevention should be a high priority.
How’s charm school, grace?”
“Have a nice trip?”
If you’ve ever been on a work site, you’ve heard these (less than original) comments when someone happens to slip or stumble. But in reality, slips and trips in the workplace are no laughing matter.
Falls from scaffolds get lots of attention. So do falls from ladders or into manholes. And rightly so – the victims of these highly preventable accidents are likely to suffer serious injuries.
Garden-variety slips, trips and spills cause huge numbers of workplace injuries every year, many of them serious. It’s easy to forget about these incidents because they seem trivial – but they are not.
In fact, they are serious enough so that health and safety agencies in the United States and worldwide make them a priority. An analysis by the University of Florida found that in one year, more than one million people suffered a slip, trip or falling injury, and that more than 17,000 Americans died as a result.
“Of the estimated 3.8 million disabling injuries each year in the workforce, 15 percent are due to slips, trips, or falls, which account for 12 to 15 percent of all Workers’ Compensation costs,” the report stated.
Those figures include falls from heights, but slips, trips and falls on the same level are also major sources of injury. It is easy to envision such accidents as common hazards on contractors’ work sites.
Employees must enter busy industrial buildings and outdoor sites where housekeeping and maintenance practices may be questionable. Many workplaces are in streets subject to slippery snow and ice, or on construction sites full of equipment, debris and obstacles.
Slips happen mostly on oily, wet or frozen surfaces. Prevention largely involves good housekeeping (not under a contractor’s control when visiting other properties) and proper footwear. Work shoes or boots with slip-resistant soles are a good remedy. If you don’t provide them as part of your people’s work uniforms, you may want to make them a requirement for people working in the field.
Around the shop or office, of course, you can prevent slips by keeping floors clean, using slip-resistant finishes in chronically wet or otherwise slippery areas, and keeping driveways and sidewalks clear of snow and ice.
Taking a trip
Accidents that involve tripping are a bit trickier. There are many tripping hazards: Extension cords or cables, hoses, loose pieces of flooring, pieces of debris, rocks, protruding manhole risers, chunks of ice, curbings, even a loose bootlace.
The University of Florida report cites a type of accident related to tripping: The step-and-fall. In one such event, the front foot lands on a surface lower than expected, such as when stepping off a curb in the dark. The person normally falls forward. Another such fall happens when a person steps forward or down and the inside or outside of the foot lands on a higher object. The ankle turns, and the person falls forward and sideways.
Of course, slips and trips can be more serious if an employee happens to be carrying a machine or an armload of materials at the time. Carrying an oversized object can obstruct a person’s vision and make a slip or trip more likely.
Stepping up safety
It doesn’t take any expensive equipment to prevent these accidents. All it takes is common sense, backed by vigilance, training and enforceable policies. Company owners, managers and supervisors should commit themselves to making prevention of slips, trips and falls a priority.
Supervisors should check work sites for slipping or tripping hazards and see that they are clear before employees go to work. Employees themselves should be trained to look for these hazards when entering homes or businesses to perform services.
In addition, employees should be taught proper procedures for walking and carrying, and for going up or down stairways and ladders. All workers should wear boots or shoes that suit their workplace: field, shop, plant or office.
Employees and supervisors also should be trained to report all slips, trips and falls, even those that don’t cause injury. That is the best way to bring to light hazards that otherwise might go unnoticed. Any hazards identified should be corrected immediately.
Slips, trips and falls are disruptive and painful. They may also be tragic for your employees and their families. Do what it takes to prevent them.