Slip and fall dangers are present in every workplace. When drafting your safety plans and protocols for most settings, it’s easy to focus on the more dramatic and dangerous hazards like fire safety, emergency training, or first aid. However, slips, trips, and falls are the second most common cause of injury at work. Shockingly, about 20-30% of people who experience a fall at work will suffer a moderate to severe injury, like deep bruising, a bone fracture, or a concussion.
Slips, trips, and fall hazards are sometimes easy to overlook because they tend to pop up unexpectedly. To maintain a safe workplace and protect your workers from preventable fall-related injuries, your safety plan should include strong protocols for footwear, signage, and housekeeping with training guidance and enforcement policies that instill safe attitudes and compliance within your employees.
OSHA Guidelines on Slips Trips and Falls
OSHA doesn’t have a set regulation about slips, trips, and falls, specifically. Instead, the bulk of the guidelines for this issue are contained in 29 CFR 1910 Subpart D Walking-Working Surfaces. This section of the Code of Federal Regulation covers both same-level falls and elevated falls, though, for this article, we will focus on same-level falls.
This important guidance went through a major overhaul in 2017 to better protect workers from hazards by adding important inspection requirements, clarifying standards, and aligning the guidance from 29 CFR 1910 General Industry with 29 CFR 1926 Construction as much as possible.
Another regulation that applies to slips, trips, and falls is 29 CFR 1910.36 and 37 Means of Egress which covers exit route safety. This standard outlines guardrail requirements, the importance of level walkways, and ice removal from exits to prevent slips.
When we walk, our center of gravity shifts from side-to-side as we transfer our weight. With every step, there is a brief moment where our body is off-balance. When we encounter a slip or trip hazard at this moment, it can lead to a sudden fall.
Slips and trips both lead to falls. However, the difference between a slip and a trip hazard is specific and well-defined.
A slip occurs when there is too little traction between your foot and the surface that can cause a sudden loss of balance and potential fall. Slips occur on wet or oily surfaces, floors covered in fine dust or powder, or on ice.
A trip occurs when your foot or leg comes in contact with a hazard while walking. The momentum from the upper body continues to move while the tripped leg stays stationary for a moment, causing your body to fall. Trips can also occur when a person steps up or down and the surface is uneven or not at the height they expected.
When a slip or trip causes your center of gravity to shift unexpectedly, sometimes it isn’t possible to correct before the body collapses. This is when a fall has taken place.
There are two types of falls: Same level falls and elevated falls. A same level fall is when a person falls to the floor or against an object or wall. An elevated fall is when a person falls from above or below the floor, like from a ladder, scaffold, building, or into a hole.
Trip and Fall Prevention
The best way to protect your workers from these hazards is to prevent them whenever possible. Since slip and trip hazards often appear suddenly from hazards like spills or loose cables, everyone must remain vigilant to protect one another. It is the employer’s role to provide a safe workplace for all employees, so a watchful eye must always be maintained.
Proper footwear is of the utmost importance to prevent slips and trips. This means shoes like sandals, open-toed shoes, canvas shoes, or high heels should be avoided in workplaces that often deal with slippery or uneven surfaces. Non-slip shoes or waterproof footwear can help your workers safely navigate wet or slick surfaces easily.
In-office environments where some workers choose to wear heels or sneakers, there are still precautions to take for proper footwear. Check for uneven surfaces or rugs that may snag a high heel and be sure to encourage that all employees keep their shoes snugly tied.
When a trip hazard or spill is present, signage is a great way to bring awareness to the new hazard. The trouble is many companies tend to leave their spill signs up far after the hazard is resolved or store it where it becomes part of the daily scenery.
When a sign is seen frequently, it becomes visual noise to your employees. It’s best practice to only put these signs out during the moment of danger and remove it as soon as the hazard is resolved.
Clean up spills and keep floors dry
Some of the most common causes of slips are workplace spills and wet floors. Whether the surface is wet from an accident or freshly mopped, always put out a sign as soon as possible to navigate your workers away from the wet surface. If there was a spill, it’s crucial to clean it up as soon as possible.
In wet environments like kitchens, it’s best practice to put down something to improve traction like anti-skid tape or slip-resistant mats.
Anything in a walking path that could catch a foot or cause a loss of traction is a potential slip or trip hazard. Cables across walkways, paper on the floor, boxes, or hoses can all cause a dangerous accident. Items should never be left on the floor and it is important for employers to continuously check for hazardous clutter.
Encourage frequent cleaning of all work areas, including a company culture that closes drawers, puts boxes away, and hides cables in protective covers if they must extend into walking areas.
Especially when navigating uneven or wet surfaces, your employees need their workplaces to be well lit to avoid falls. If they can’t see the dangers around them, how can they be expected to avoid them? Adequate lighting is required not only on the work floor, but anywhere your employees are expected to walk including stairs, halls, ramps, and exits.
Plans and protocols
Each of these methods of prevention should be written in your safety plan as company protocol that each worker has easy access to. For your slips, trips, and falls safety plan to work well, each employee must maintain a safe attitude during their daily work and act on resolving any slip or trip hazards in their area.
Importance of slips, trips, and falls training
Proper training for hazard awareness is the most effective way to avoid slip or trip injuries. Any safety orientation training or refresher course should include a reminder of the types of slip or trip hazards your workers may encounter at your facility, as well as how to safely navigate them.
Creating a culture of safety can help each worker feel comfortable pointing out a potential hazard and act on protocols to prevent injuries or incidents without hesitation. Help your workers recognize these hazards confidently with clear and frequent training. If incidents in your facility do occur, reevaluate your safety plan after you conduct an incident investigation to find methods to improve your implementation of crucial slip, trip, and fall prevention.
Ready to prevent slips, trips, and falls in your workplace? NSC makes training easy.