Slips, trips and falls Fall prevention Injury prevention

Reducing slips, trips and falls

Hazard awareness and prevention strategies needed

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Photos: mofles/iStockphoto

Fall hazards remain a common problem across multiple industries and workplaces. In 2019, worker deaths stemming from slips, trips and falls climbed 11.3% from the previous year, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Meanwhile, OSHA’s standard on fall protection – general requirements (1926.501) has topped the agency’s Top 10 list of most frequently cited standards for 11 consecutive fiscal years.

Other standards related to inherent fall risks and that routinely populate the list include those regarding ladders (1926.1053), scaffolding (1926.451) and fall protection – training requirements (1926.503).

“Most workers have some safety knowledge, but how do we get people to consistently apply the safety practices that they know?” asked Bradley Evanoff, occupational health physician and professor of occupational and environmental medicine at Washington University in St. Louis. “How can an employer create a work culture where all employees take an active role in making the workplace safer and feel like they can speak up if they see a problem?”

Factors may overlap

During a December 2019 National Safety Council webinar on strategies for preventing slips, trips and falls, Amber Joseph, technical consultant at Liberty Mutual Insurance, identified several contributing factors. Among them:

  • Walking surfaces
  • Obstacles
  • People and activity
  • Footwear
  • Cleaning
  • Contaminants

“A lot of times, you’ll have overlap within these, so it may be a walking surface and a footwear discussion depending on the type of contaminant that you have in place,” Joseph said. “But really, it’s looking at this as a whole, and looking at it as, ‘All right, I need to address these areas as I move forward.’”

On the surface

Under OSHA’s standard on walking-working surfaces for general industry (1910.22), employers must ensure “all places of employment, passageways, storerooms, service rooms and walking-working surfaces are kept in a clean, orderly and sanitary condition.”

Walking-working surfaces also must be maintained free of hazards such as sharp or protruding objects, loose boards, corrosion, leaks, spills, snow, and ice. Additionally, hazardous conditions on surfaces must be “corrected or repaired before an employee uses the walking-working surface again.”

The standard adds that “if the correction or repair cannot be made immediately, the hazard must be guarded to prevent employees from using the walking-working surface until the hazard is corrected or repaired.”

NIOSH suggests that employers select flooring material based on the work that will be performed in the area. The agency also notes the importance of the factor of coefficient of friction – a measurement for the propensity to slip on a given walkway surface. The agency states that flooring with “a higher static coefficient of friction is safer” and recommends flooring with a CoF of 0.5 or greater for high-risk areas.

In November, the University of Pittsburgh announced that two researchers from its Swanson School of Engineering intend to use a NIOSH grant to develop a new model of flooring friction performance with the aim to prevent falls on the job. Citing data from Liberty Mutual, a Pitt press release notes that workplace slips and falls carry an annual expense of $10 billion in workers’ compensation claims.

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