Slip, Trip And Fall Prevention
Slips, trips and falls are one of the top five causes of workman’s compensation claims
Slips, trips and falls constitute the majority of general industry accidents. Second only to motor vehicle accidents, slips, trips and falls are the most frequent accidents leading to personal injury. Slips, trips and falls can result in head injuries, back injuries, broken bones, cuts and lacerations, or strained muscles.
The Bureau of State Risk Management has identified “slips, trips and falls” as one of the top five causes of workers’ compensation claims over the last six years.
Factors contributing to slips, trips and falls
There are two risk categories for the occurrence of slips, trips and falls: internal hazards and external hazards. Each are equally important components of eliminating injuries associated with slips, trips and falls, but they are not both consistently addressed in safety programs. While a large focus is placed on eliminating external hazards such as surfaces, weather conditions, footwear, lighting, etc., internal hazards are often overlooked. The TIPS slip, trip and fall prevention program incorporates training on reducing risk associated with internal hazards.
Internal hazards are just as important as external hazards and involve us as workers and our ‘internal environment,’ or our own bodies. Just as we have control over our external environment, we also have control over our internal environment. Four contributing factors of slips, trips and falls caused by internal hazards are posture, balance, core stability and walking patterns.
Maintenance of proper posture can help prevent slips, trips and falls by improving body mechanics while walking, moving and working. Individuals that have proper posture are less likely to have muscular imbalances and a poor center of gravity and more likely to have strong, flexible and healthy bodies. Avoiding slumping, forward head posture and rounded shoulders are just a few ways to maintain correct posture. Because each individual is different, posture changes and adjustments vary from person to person.
Balance issues are a major contributor to slip, trip and fall injuries and are often more significant in the older workforce. One factor contributing to this increase in the older workforce is the decline of proprioception. Proprioception is the ability to easily perceive our position in relation to the world around us. There is not an organ in the body that is responsible for this, but rather it is processed by the nervous system. Within each muscle and joint are muscle spindles and Golgi tendons that measure the amount of tension and the degree of contraction. This information travels up the spinal cord to the brain. The brain accepts the information from every muscle and joint in the body and consequently determines where the limbs must be in space. Changes in proprioception often go unnoticed because humans are continuously adapting. When proprioception starts to decline, we become more vision dependent to adapt. That, however, can also be an issue as vision also declines as we age. Therefore, it becomes critical that we challenge our proprioception by doing balance exercises regularly. This will help to improve and maintain this ability.
Other ways to help our balance include viewing the path you will walk or climb each time you walk it and using extra caution and slowing down when you have used medications, have had eyewear changes or have medical conditions that may affect your balance or vision.
As people age, muscle mass tends to decline. As muscle mass declines, crucial stabilizing muscles that contribute greatly to balance are weakened. Engaging and training crucial stabilizing muscles that add support to the body can help avoid injury, increase body awareness and improve balance. In addition, core stability is essential for the maintenance of an upright posture and many movements, such as walking. Without core stability, posture is difficult to maintain and more wear and tear is placed on the body with activities involving movement. Gait is especially affected because a lack of core stability means a lack of balance and uneven weight distribution, both of which are critical for doing this task correctly and safely.
Improper walking mechanics can make it more difficult to have correct balance and navigate around on different surfaces, leading to an increased chance of an accident occurring. Identifying faulty movement patterns and making corrections can help reduce slips, trips and falls as well as pain in the joints. To improve walking mechanics and help the body move better as a unit:
- Avoid putting hands in pockets. Arm use helps to keep the upper body balanced over the feet.
- Set good posture and maintain while you walk to optimize the balanced use of muscles and the body’s ability to respond to challenges.
- Maintain feet at hip width apart as you walk.
- Check footwear often to look for uneven wear and tear caused by walking patterns that could contribute to an additional risk for a slip, trip and fall occurrence. Examine the outer edge and back of the heel for worn down marks. Also check to see if the leather on the outside or inside of the foot is outstretched. If you are finding either of these, consider purchasing a new pair of shoes/boots.
External hazards are in our environment and our surroundings. Rules are often put in place to reduce these external hazards. Four common external hazards of slips, trips and falls are wet or slippery surfaces, environmental conditions, insufficient or inadequate lighting and footwear.
Wet or Slippery Surfaces
Wet or slippery surfaces are a major cause of slips. Highly polished floors such as marble, terrazzo, or ceramic tile can be extremely slippery even when dry, and definitely increases the potential for a slip when moisture (spills, rain, snow and mud) is present. Food preparation areas and kitchens are also a high risk for slippery surfaces. To reduce the likelihood of a slip and/or fall on wet or slippery floors:
- Use anti-skid adhesive tape in high traffic areas.
- Use absorbent mats in areas that tend to be “spill prone” and in entrance ways during inclement weather.
- Have a procedure in place to deal with spills and ensure spills are reported and cleaned up immediately.
- If you must walk on a slippery surface, wear proper footwear for better traction.
- Use railings or other stable objects that you can hold onto.
No matter how well the snow and ice are removed from sidewalks, parking lots and the surrounding streets, people will invariably encounter some slippery surfaces when walking outdoors in the winter. Many cold-weather injuries are the result of falls on ice-covered streets and sidewalks. Walking on snow or ice is especially treacherous. Getting around in icy conditions calls for planning, caution and a little common sense.
- Dress warmly and wear boots with non-skid soles; avoid plastic and leather soles.
- Keep warm, but make sure you can hear and see what’s going on around you. Wear a bright scarf or hat or reflective gear so drivers can see you, and whatever you wear, make sure it doesn’t block your vision or make it hard for you to hear traffic.
- During the daytime, wear sunglasses to help you see better and avoid hazards.
- When entering a building, remove as much snow and water from your boots as possible. Take notice that floors and stairs may be wet and slippery. Walk carefully.
Insufficient or Inadequate Lighting
Insufficient light can make it difficult to see obstacles and notice changes in the walking surface and is associated with an increase in accidents. Move slowly where light is dim and pay increased attention to your path of travel. Moving too fast increases the likelihood you will misjudge a step or encounter a hazard before you have a chance to notice it. Moving from light to dark areas, or vice versa, can cause temporary vision problems that might cause a person to slip on an oil spill or trip over a misplaced object.
Improper or worn out footwear can lead to problems with slips, trips and falls. Oversized shoes, improperly fastened shoes and slippery soles all increase the risk of an accident.
- The wear patterns on your boots or shoes are good indicators of possible issues with how you walk or stand. Assess the condition of your work boots or shoes frequently. If you have significant wear patterns such as uneven wearing at the heel or overstretched leather on either side of your boot, consider getting some help to correct the way you walk and stand to reduce your risk for slip, trip or fall injuries as well as other muscle and joint pain and deterioration issues.
- Always be sure that footwear is the correct size. When trying on shoes or boots make sure that they are comfortable, have enough room in the toe box to wiggle your toes, that your heels stay in place when you walk and that the width is snug, but not tight.
- Make sure you are able to properly fasten your footwear. If you have boots that lace up, keep the two rows of eyelets parallel to each other. If they are not parallel, it may be the wrong width of boot for you.
- Choose footwear that is appropriate for the job or task you are performing. If you have to walk in slippery conditions, use extra traction with slip on cleats.
Most slip, trip and fall incidents are preventable
with general precautions and safety measures.