Slips, trips, and falls rank among the leading causes of injury, accounting for more than 8.7 million injuries per year according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. According to BLS figures, slips, trips, and falls are a major concern in the workplace, accounting for nearly a quarter of all on-the-job injuries. The direct costs of these workplace injuries, according to a report published by Liberty Mutual, were more than $16 billion in 2014. These figures clearly establish slips, trips, and falls as an important focus area in employers' efforts towards preventing workplace injuries.
Preventing workplace injuries related to slips, trips, and falls requires addressing two basic types of hazards: environmental risks and the human element. Zurich Insurance recommends these best practices in managing environmental risks:
- Keep stairs well-lit, in good repair, and of equal height, and use handrails on stairs with three or more steps.
- Highlight curbs and other uneven surfaces to warn of the height change.
- Check exterior lighting regularly to ensure it is adequate and in good repair.
- Keep parking lots free of holes and obstructions.
- Never leave floor spills unattended and clean them up ASAP. Post warning signs until the surface has fully dried.
- Keep oil absorbing materials on hand for oil spills.
- Install mats at entrances to keep floors clean and dry.
- Keep entrances, hallways, walkways, and stairs free of obstructions.
- Implement an inspection program to check your workplace over for hazards regularly and address issues found during inspection promptly.
It is important to acknowledge that, while environmental hazards can be reduced, they cannot be entirely eliminated in any workplace. Additionally, in some workplaces, certain hazards are simply part of the job, and eliminating them is impossible. In housekeeping, for example, workers cannot do their jobs without some exposure to wet, slippery floors. In the construction industry, employees must contend with the elements and/or working at heights. This is where managing the human element comes in, and doing so is just as important as minimizing environmental risks.
Ensuring that employees receive training on job-specific risks and how to handle them is essential. Drafting and enforcing clear safety policies and protocols is important in preventing workplace injuries. Basic fall protection training is necessary, and behavior policies that stress the importance of safety issues can help – wearing appropriate footwear, using handrails on stairs, walking at a careful, deliberate pace, and reporting and/or correcting hazards immediately, for instance.
In industries where slip, trip, and fall hazards are inherent in the jobs employees do, Physical Abilities Testing (PAT) can be an effective tool in preventing workplace injuries. By measuring physical factors that can affect balance, PAT can help employers ensure that potential and/or existing employees are physically capable of safely navigating these workplace hazards. Examples of important physical factors that can, in some cases, increase a person's risk of slip, trip, and fall injuries include:
- Obesity, which can alter the center of gravity, affecting balance and stability
- Advancing age, which can affect eyesight, reflexes, strength, and coordination
- Poor posture and/or gait problems
- Previous injury, especially head injuries
While these factors do not always indicate a balance issue, they do indicate a higher possibility that one may be present. Testing the physical capabilities of all job candidates and/or workers can help employers spot them when they are present, avoiding the potentially costly mistake of placing employees in jobs they are ill-equipped to handle.
No employer can prevent workplace injuries entirely. However, substantial reductions in their numbers is a very realistic goal, and putting these safety measures to work for your company can help in meeting that goal.