Staying Upright: Slips, Trips and Falls

Slips, trips and falls are leading causes of death in the workplace. In addition, they account for more than 1 million hospital visits nationwide each year, resulting in thousands of disabling injuries. Many of these incidents can be prevented by adhering to some basic safety protocols.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) implemented a number of standards and federal requirements that apply to various walking and working surfaces. OSHA believes that following these guidelines can vastly reduce the number of slip, trip and fall injuries and fatalities in the workplace.

Typically, slips occur when a person’s foot loses traction with the floor or a walking surface, and a trip occurs when a person unexpectedly catches his or her foot. Both usually result in a fall. A wide range of circumstances can lead to slips, trips and falls. Common factors include uneven walking surfaces, clutter, exposed electrical cords, wet floors, grease, oil spills, polished floors, loose carpeting, opened desk drawers or filing cabinets, damaged ladder rungs, damaged or broken steps, and weather-related elements such as snow and ice.

Many preventive measures to eliminate these slipping and tripping hazards are common sense, but they are often ignored. For example, paying attention, adjusting stride and pace suitable for the walking surface, walking with feet pointed slightly outward, making wide turns at corners, keeping walking areas clear of clutter and ensuring objects being pushed or carried do not obstruct sight lines to potential hazards can go a long way toward avoiding slips, trips and falls.

Good housekeeping can be helpful, as well. For example, ensure spills are cleaned up immediately, wet areas are marked, debris is cleared from floors and walkways are kept clutter-free. Similarly, secure rugs and carpets, close file cabinets or storage drawers, cover cables that cross walkways, and replace used light bulbs or faulty switches. When cleaning walking surfaces, it is also important to use nonskid waxes or solutions that won’t make floors more slippery.

During winter, hazardous and icy weather conditions can greatly increase the risk for slips, trips and falls. Therefore, it is important to keep parking lots, stairs and walkways clear of snow and ice. Some experts estimate that nearly 80 percent of slips and falls can be attributed to snow and ice in parking lots and on sidewalks. The use of rock salt and sand can help prevent or reduce the potential for this type of accident.

In workplaces where floors may be oily or wet, or where workers spend considerable time outdoors, preventing falling accidents should start with selecting proper footwear. Typically, shoes with smooth, leather soles provide little traction on slick, wet or icy walking surfaces. If workers are in an office, they may be accustomed to wearing dress shoes. It is imperative to understand that these types of shoes increase the risk of slipping hazards. Overshoes can be worn over everyday footwear to provide additional traction.

When choosing proper footwear, it is crucial to factor in the slip resistance of the shoe or boot, the tread design, sole harness, sole and heel shape, abrasion resistance, oil resistance, and chemical and heat resistance. Because there is no specific recommended tread pattern for slip-resistant footwear, contractors should consult with the manufacturer to determine the ideal shoe or boot for each work environment.

Finally, the material that the sole is made of should also be factored into the purchase decision. When working in more extreme conditions or outdoor environments, footwear with hard polyurethane soles should be considered. Sometimes a soft rubber sole doesn’t have the greatest durability and may wear down quickly while working in outdoor environments. When working in cold or wintery conditions, footwear with a thermoplastic rubber sole may be a better choice. For electricians or linemen, it is also imperative to have nonconductive footwear to protect against electrical hazards.

Slips, trips and falls can cause serious harm to employees and cost employers a large amount of money and lost productivity. If some of these common-sense prevention tactics are taken, the risk of such incidents can be greatly reduced. OSHA’s website at www.osha.com contains additional valuable resources and training supplements on slips, trips and falls.

About the Author

Tom O'Connor

Safety Columnist

Tom O'Connor is safety and regulatory affairs manager for Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. Reach him at toconnor@intecweb.com.

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