Low-Level Falls: Minimizing the risk of slips, trips and falls

By Tom O'Connor | Jan 15, 2024

Slips, trips and falls account for nearly 20% of all workplace injuries. It is important to be aware of the danger and how to minimize the risk of becoming injured.

Slips, trips and falls account for nearly 20% of all workplace injuries. One in six such accidents require an average of 11 days away from work. As a result, it is important to be aware of the danger and how to minimize the risk of becoming injured.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration fall protection regulations dictate a range of safety requirements when working at heights greater than 4 feet in general industry, 5 feet in shipyards and 6 feet in construction work. However, only a fraction of all falls occurs from elevated surfaces. Falls from same-level walking working surfaces account for 65% of fall-­related injuries.

Slips occur because of a loss of traction. Trips result from being caught on an obstruction. Falls result from an initial slip or trip or losing one’s balance due to surface conditions or other causes.

Common sources of slips, trips and falls include clutter; electrical cords/cables; open desk/file cabinet drawers; loose carpeting or mats; missing, uneven, irregular or damaged flooring, floor tiles, bricks and steps; polished/waxed floors, liquid spills or grease; dry materials such as wood dust/powders; poor lighting and reduced visibility; sloped walking surfaces such as ramps and gangplanks without skid-­resistant surfaces; and carrying loads that obstruct vision. 

Other sources may include shoes or boots that are wet, muddy, greasy or oily or have low-traction soles; weather hazards such as rain, sleet, ice, snow, hail and frost; and distractions such as carrying books/papers or reading/texting while walking.

What to do

Employers should maintain good housekeeping practices to help reduce the risk of slips, trips and falls. This means keeping work areas, passageways, storerooms and service areas clean and organized and being quick to address surfaces prone to becoming wet and slippery. People should alert maintenance or the appropriate contact to post signs and address cleanup. Poor conditions should be reported when outdoor areas or entryways are slippery. Employers should make sure to use mats to remove water, ice and snow from shoes upon entering a building.

Everyone should consider the effect of weather conditions on surfaces. High-­traction footwear designed for wet, snowy or icy surfaces should be worn when conditions warrant it. Additionally, workers should never string cords, cables or air hoses across hallways or in any designated aisles; leave boxes, files or briefcases in the aisles; walk too fast or run in the workplace; use cellphones; carry materials that obstruct vision; or wear sunglasses in low-light areas.

When climbing up or down stairs, workers should always use handrails and avoid carrying large or heavy objects on stairs without a colleague’s help. If possible, use a freight or service elevator to move big, bulky or heavy items. 

When entering a darkened room, workers should always turn on the light first and report issues such as poor lighting. Other factors that may contribute to the likelihood of a fall include personal attributes such as age, physical/emotional health and stress/fatigue levels.

Sometimes these circumstances are unavoidable. However, workers can use many common–sense tactics to help protect themselves. These include paying attention to direction of travel, taking extra time and not rushing, adjusting stride to a pace suitable for the task at hand, walking with the feet pointed slightly outward and making wide turns around obstructions. Practicing these precautions should go a long way toward preventing slips, trips and falls. Being proactive and performing periodic inspections to address any hazards that appear will further ensure safety.

What not to do

To help prevent low-level falls, workers should never climb on shelving to reach for objects positioned on higher levels; stand on a chair, desk or table to change a light bulb or do any overhead tasks; or reach for something in an elevated position. They should also only use equipment safely designed for these tasks, such as stepladders. Workers should also avoid climbing on construction equipment, vehicles or machinery in a manner that is not intended.

Make sure, when workers are using any type of ladder, that it doesn’t have any broken or missing steps or other defects. If any of these conditions are observed, the ladder should be removed from service. Ladders should only be used as intended by the manufacturer. Workers should never stand on the top step or rung. / Visual Generation

About The Author

O’CONNOR is safety and regulatory affairs manager for Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm. Reach him at [email protected].





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