By Rehan Iqbal
Slips and falls continue to happen at work all over the world, not just in the United States. It’s important to understand why slips and falls (and tripping) happen and how to prevent them.
Common Causes of Slips and Falls
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, slips, falls and trips in the private construction industry occurred at 31.4 per 10,000 full-time workers.
This slip and fall report included trips too, and it pulled data from 2016-2020. These records also revealed that overall private slip, trip and fall occurrences totaled 21.7 per 10k.
The above numbers don’t even account for how many fatalities have occurred. In Texas alone, 15% of all work-related deaths resulted from tripping, slipping or falling. About 8.9 million visits to the emergency room also took place in 2020.
Canada’s version of “OSHA” is called the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS). As recently as 2022, CCOHS reported that 67% of falls in the workplace happen because of slips and trips. It’s only a little more than 30% that occur because of falling from a ladder, stairs, roofs or other high places.
In the United Kingdom, the Health and Safety Executive reported in 2012 that slips and trips account for 40% of all major reported injuries. A good portion of falls also happen from a high position, such as when on a ladder, scaffolding or roof.
How to Prevent Slips and Falls
Some countries have regulations that even require employees to take action to prevent slips and falls. The idea behind this is that employers are not the only ones who need to take responsibility for preventing workplace injuries.
Even if you don’t live in a country that makes it mandatory for employees to prevent slips and falls, you can. CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) and OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration are two in the U.S. that teach and regulate workplace safety.
Review these tips offered by both the CDC and OSHA. They can prevent workplace slips and falls and even save your life.
1. Move Objects Away From Work and Traffic Areas
Whatever it is, even a piece of paper in an aisle or near your feet, pick it up and discard it. Don’t procrastinate. Even if it’s not your “job” or your own workspace, pick it up anyway. You could prevent a coworker in another station from getting hurt.
2. Report Obstructions you Can’t Move to a Supervisor
If you can’t move an entire shelving unit that sticks out too close to your work area, for example, report it to your supervisor. Have it moved as soon as possible to give you enough room to complete your tasks without compromising your safety.
Moving objects in your way will stop slips, trips and falls, but that’s not all. It can also reduce your chance of stubbing your toe, bruising your leg, or scratching your side. More importantly, it will prevent broken bones or potential disabling internal injuries.
3. Clean Up Spills Immediately
If you make a mess, clean it up immediately. If you can’t, call for help. This will prevent slippery surfaces from causing you to slip. It will also prevent people from tripping over the spill if it becomes sticky when dry.
4. Wipe Cleaning Solutions from Surfaces
You might think of cleaning up your spills right away, but do you also wipe the area dry after mopping or wiping? If not, you should. Otherwise, make sure you put your caution signs up.
5. Don’t Forget the “Wet Floor Signs”
If you don’t have time to dry an area, don’t forget the “wet floor” signs. Put at least two signs up, one on each side of a spill or wet area. Three or more signs should be up if traffic comes to that wet spot from more than two directions.
6. Keep “Wet Floor” Signs Near you
Ideally, wet floor signs should be right near your work station. That way, you can put up those signs, so you have time to go retrieve a mop from the sanitation closet.
7. Put up Caution Signs as Soon as Possible
It doesn't do any good to have “wet floor” or hazardous waste signs near you if you don’t use them. You also have to put them up as soon as possible before anyone else (including you) walks through the area again.
8. Wear Non-Slip Shoes
PPE (personal protective equipment) for production work usually includes non-slip shoes. It will help you avoid slipping, or if you trip, it will help you keep your balance with at least one of your feet.
Aside from non-slip soles, hopefully you have footwear that has safety toes. This will help you avoid broken bones if you do bump into an object.
9. Don’t Wear Pants that are too Long
In addition to wearing the right shoes as part of your PPE, don’t wear pants that are too long. You could wind up tripping over yourself if you do. Your hems should be just above your shoe and not near your heels and dragging on the floor.
10. Keep Your Laces Tied
Aside from tripping over your pants, make sure your shoelaces are tied. Otherwise, wear buckles or velcro strap closures if allowed.
If your footwear has laces, double tie them or make sure the laces are short enough to not come loose when you’re walking. If that happens, that increases your chances of tripping over yourself even if your workplace is otherwise safe.
11. Place the Ladder on Flat Ground
Make sure all debris, tools, lumber or equipment is pulled out from the spot where you want to set the ladder. Then, set the ladder down on flat ground. The industrial stepstools typically lock in place when they’re level, so use that to confirm it’s safe to climb before you do.
12. Don’t Stand on the Top Ladder Base
Contrary to popular belief, the top ladder doesn’t support a person. That's because it's a base, not a step. It’s meant to at most hold a bucket of paint and not much else. Don’t stand on the top run because you might fall from it.
13. Use Harnesses When “up high”
If you’re on the side of a roof on a fireman’s ladder cleaning cutters, hook yourself to the side of the building. Otherwise, if you’re on scaffolding or trying to reach items near the sealing, make sure you have a rope, ratchet tie or harness to hold you.
Another time when you should use harnesses when “up high” includes when hoisted to the ceiling in a scissor lift. That will prevent you from crashing to the floor if you lose your balance for a split second.
Your employer should train you in proper work safety. If they don’t ask them questions. Sometimes, even if you’re careful, accidents do happen. If so, you may need to make a workers' compensation claim.