Anatomy of Slips, Trips and Falls

[fa icon="calendar'] Jun 30, 2016 1:53:25 PM / by Deborah Lechner

Slips, trips and falls (STFs) can result in dangerous (even fatal) and costly outcomes. While these types of injuries can occur in many workplaces, there are certain industries that experience a higher incidence of STF’s:

  • Construction
  • Food Services
  • Healthcare
  • Highway Maintenance
  • Housekeeping
  • Telecommunications

In 2013, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that 25,000 STF accidents occur daily in the U.S., making them the second leading cause of workplace injury, accounting for 15 percent of all workplace accidents. In 2011, the BLS found that 15 percent of all occupational fatalities stem from STFs and 25 percent of all nonfatal occupational injuries are the result of STFs.

The costs of these injuries are impressive as well. The 2016 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index calculates slips, trips and falls add up to nearly $18 billion in workers’ compensation costs. 


Most workplace safety programs fail to reduce STFs injuries because they focus primarily on the extrinsic (that is, environmental) causes of STFs. Without taking into account the role of intrinsic (or, worker-related) factors leading to STFs, even the most well-intentioned programs will come up short.

To learn how to prevent STFs, it is best to understand the anatomy of these types of injuries.

What is a slip?

A slip is caused by the absence of sufficient friction between a person’s feet and his / her walking surface.

What is a trip?

A trip is a loss of balance that occurs when the forward or backward movement of one foot or both feet is interrupted.

What is a fall?

A fall is the consequence of a slip or trip. Falls happen when an irregular body movement disrupts balance.

It is important to note that not every slip or trip leads to a fall. Additionally, slips and trips can create an injury without causing a fall. For example, if an employee slips and strikes his arm against a sharp object – creating a laceration – or trips and prevents a fall by grabbing onto a nearby stationary object – leading to a strained or sprained wrist – in order to prevent the fall, it’s a STFs injury just the same.

But what about those “extrinsic” and “intrinsic” factors? There is an existing bias in the safety community that the only thing to do to minimize STFs is to remove the extrinsic hazards. That is,  implement fall protection, install good lighting, keep passageways clear of debris or liquids, and so on. While addressing these extrinsic factors is clearly important, it is just as clearly not enough. Think beyond the purely environmental factors and consider for a moment the intrinsic factors in your workforce – the inherent characteristics and acquired habits they bring with them to the job (or don’t) - and it is easy to see how they can influence the frequency and severity of STFs.

If the jobs for which you hire include climbing ladders, working on scaffolding or even just walking on uneven surfaces, an obvious intrinsic risk factor for STFs injuries is an employee who has consumed alcohol or drugs, as they will be more likely to fall because these substances affect balance. Less obvious intrinsic risk factors for that same job include the physical attributes of the employee himself, including obesity, previous injuries and untreated hypertension, which research has shown impacts more than half of all STFs.

While you cannot rule out a potential job candidate due to obesity or a previous back injury, you can include balance testing in your Pre-Hire Physical Abilities Testing protocol, helping you make sure the workers you would like to hire possess the amount of balance needed to safely do the job. By including balance in the testing protocol – when appropriate and an essential element of the job – you can expect significant reductions in slips, trips and falls.

An excellent case example of the effectiveness of a pre-hire screening program that addresses slips, trips and falls involves an industrial services company. This company implemented screening gradually across all their sites. By the end of 2013, they were testing at all their locations and experienced a 31 percent decrease in STFs injuries in the first year after initiating testing and an additional 79 percent in the second year after testing.  


Because this employer rolled the program out to all locations gradually over a period of three years, they were able to compare the costs of injuries/claim in applicants who were tested to those who were not tested. They found a striking decrease in the average cost per claim between the two groups. 


This case example is one of many which demonstrate that Functional Pre-Hire Physical Abilities screening is an extremely cost-effective way to reduce workers’ compensation expenses. By performing Pre-Hire Physical Abilities Testing, employers can not only protect themselves, but job applicants as well. 

To learn more about Slips, Trips and Falls and see additional case examples, download our new eBook.


Topics: Workplace Safety, Injury Prevention, Physical Abilities Tests, Slips, Trips, Falls

Deborah Lechner

Written by Deborah Lechner

Deborah Lechner, ErgoScience President, combines an extensive research background with 25-plus years of clinical experience. Under her leadership, ErgoScience continues to use the science of work to improve workplace safety, productivity and profitability.