Workplace Safety and Preventing Slips and Falls
Slips, trips, and falls happen in the workplace every day, and although they can cause serious injuries, they are often not as high on the priority list as they should be when it comes to accident prevention and on-the-job health and safety education.
But with the average slip, trip or fall costing the employer $2,000 in direct WSIB (Workplace Safety Insurance Board) costs and a total of $22,000 in total direct and indirect costs, they can be a costly hazard to ignore.
According to WSIB statistics, slips, trips, and falls caused almost 20 percent of all injuries in Ontario in 2003. According to the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, in Canada, approximately 60,000 workers are injured each year due to slip and fall accidents. This number represents about 15 percent of the lost-time injuries that were accepted by workers compensation boards or commissions across the country. And in the service sector, that number is even higher! In workplaces like kitchens, retail outlets, vehicle repair shops, or tourism workplaces, slip and fall hazards are a serious risk factor that employers need to be aware of and they must begin developing controls to reduce injuries caused by these hazards.
Living in a northern climate like Canada poses an additional risk. Snow and ice in the winter months increase the risk of slips, trips or falls dramatically, both outdoors and indoors. Employers should encourage employees to wear proper winter footwear when traveling to and from work. And, they should be diligent about clearing entrances and walkways around the workplace within a half hour of opening and closing. This not only prevents people from slipping and falling as they enter or exit the workplace, but it also minimizes the amount of snow and ice that is tracked inside. For example, if a worker wearing boots or shoes tracks snow into the workplace and the snow melts, a slip hazard is created.
Multiply this hazard by the number of workers and customers in the workplace and the risk increases significantly. Mats on the floor by the front door catch some of the snow but it may take a few seconds for the snow to melt off the shoes and by that time the person has moved beyond the mat.
Slips, Trips & Falls Definitions:
Slip: A sliding motion where the foot (shoe) loses traction with the floor surface resulting in a loss of balance.
Trip: Involves a loss of balance when the natural movement of the foot is interfered with momentarily.
Fall: A drop in height of the human body.
WSIB statistics say that one in every six lost-time injuries in Ontario is caused by a fall. It’s numbers like these that show employers and employees alike that it is time to take slips, trips and fall hazards seriously in their workplaces.
There are many factors that contribute to these statistics. Improper flooring, equipment and footwear, lack of information and understanding of the risk, and apathy all play a big role in the high incidence of slips, trips, and falls.
Common causes include slippery floors due to spilled liquids, garbage on the floor, improper footwear, obstructions on floors or stairs, and loose or frayed carpet. One of the first things that employers should do to reduce the risk of slips, trips and falls in the workplace is to increase awareness of these hazards.
But, awareness is not just putting up signs and posters; Awareness involves the manager or supervisor speaking to the workers and telling them about the hazards in that specific workplace. They should provide verbal and written instructions for safety procedures and controls in the workplace and those procedures should be enforced. The manager or supervisor should observe workers and follow up with them to ensure that proper procedures are followed and unsafe practices are corrected immediately. Some training may be required, especially for hazardous equipment, such as ladders. The training should include topics such as equipment inspection, set up, use, storage, and preventative maintenance. All training should be documented and employees should be required to demonstrate competency afterward.
With a better understanding of the risk and knowledge of safety procedures to prevent accidents, employees can take the necessary steps to protect themselves, their co-workers and customers from injury. Even the simplest procedures can make a tremendous difference. For example, it is common for employees to mop the floor and leave the sign “careful wet floors” up for an extended length of time. People get used to the sign, especially if it is up all day and tend to ignore the message. And, if the floor is mopped up with cold dirty water instead of clean hot water the risk of slips and falls can increase. It is also important to have the proper policies in place and to enforce them. This conveys the importance of paying attention to potential hazards and taking action to correct them. Employees will be more apt to report things such as cracked tiles, frayed carpets, loose flooring, dimly lit stairways, and loose or missing handrails – things that might otherwise be ignored.
In addition to education and awareness, it is important to proactively invest in the proper floor coating, treatment anti-slip tape or floor care products to keep employees, visitors and customers safe. The key is to address the potential loss caused by unsafe walking surfaces before the fact and minimize or eliminate the loss due to workers being away from work caused by slip injury, potential litigation due to unsafe floors and general loss of productivity.
Anti-slip products come in many different forms, depending upon the product’s application. Traditional methods of preventing slips and falls, such as mopping up spills right away, can be helpful but are reactive rather than proactive. The key is to ensure that the floor meets minimum C.O.F. (coefficient of friction) standards when wet and dry. This is achieved with the right choice of anti-slip treatment, tape, coating, finish or maintenance product.
Click the links below for our workplace safety products and anti-slip treatments:
Look for slip, trip & fall hazards in the following:
- Outdoor surfaces
- Ladders, scaffolds, work platforms
- Vehicles or machinery
Types of injuries that can occur:
- Cuts, loss of blood
- Broken bones
- Musculoskeletal injuries
- Back injuries
Contributing risk factors:
- Slippery floors not addressed
- Action or inaction of others
- Insufficient training
- Inappropriate ladders
- Inadequate protective footwear
- Improper storage
- Worn work surfaces/floors
- Poor housekeeping
- Climate factors (rain, snow, heat, cold, etc.)
- Slip-resistant flooring
- Workflow disorganized
- An inadequate preventative maintenance program
- Lack of procedures
- Train on the proper use of equipment
- Provide PPE
- Equipment and Maintenance of equipment
- Fall arrest system
- Floor mats
- Regular inspection and repair of equipment
- Good housekeeping
- Warning signs, visual cues
- Improve lighting
- Examine the workflow and layout
- Eliminate or reduce the use of stairs or climbing
- Provide written policies and procedures
(Excerpted from The Safety Mosaic, Vol 8, No. 2, Summer 2005)