National Safety Month Focus: Slips and Falls
Every year, National Safety Month is observed to alert people to a wide variety of accidents and injuries that could be avoided, saving time, money and no small amount of pain and suffering. In Oregon, hundreds of people are hurt every year in slip and fall accidents, and it’s no surprise that the people responsible for organizing National Safety Month have chosen the subject of slips and falls as the main focus for a week out of that month.
To have any significant impact on the number of slip and fall accidents that injure so many people—and kill far too many people—it is important to understand how slip and fall accidents happen, identify potentially dangerous areas where these accidents are most likely to occur and then eliminate or minimize the potential hazards .
How do slips happen, and how can these accidents be prevented?
Many people believe that the majority of falls that injure people are those that occur when someone falls off a ladder, or off a wall; in other words, from a height. The fact is, however, that 60 percent of fall injuries happen on one level—in other words, slips and falls.
The first part of that equation, of course, is the slip that happens just before the fall. Simply put, slips happen because there’s not enough friction between someone’s footwear and the surface upon which they’re walking.
The most common types and causes of slips include:
- Wet, greasy and oily surfaces, like those that could be found in restaurant kitchens
- Occasional spills—these could happen in supermarkets, schools, offices, etc.
- Weather hazards, like ice on sidewalks
- Loose rugs or mats that haven’t been properly anchored to the slippery floors upon which they’re placed—places like hotel lobbies, entries to shopping malls, etc.
- Floors or other walking surfaces where the degree of traction, or grip, of the floor surface changes from one area to the next
Tripping is a serious safety hazard
Both slips and trips can cause very serious and painful injuries, not just from landing on a hard surface, but because of the way your body wrenches on the way down when you find yourself falling unexpectedly. This can result in long term injuries that persist long after bumps and bruises have disappeared.
Trips are different from slips only in that they are caused, not by lack of friction, but when your foot or leg has hit an unexpected obstacle, causing you to lose your balance and suddenly pitch forward. Some of the most common causes of trips and the resulting injuries include:
- Obstructed view of hazards near ground level
- Inadequate lighting, making it difficult or impossible to see potential trip hazards
- Clutter in walkways
- Bulges or large wrinkles in carpeting
- Cables lying across the ground that haven’t been properly covered
- Bottom drawers of desks, cabinets, etc., that have been left open
- Uneven walking surfaces, including steps and thresholds
Now that we know the problem, what’s the solution?
While they are very much different types of accidents, both slips and trips occur when the surface you’re walking on isn’t as it should be, but the people who slip or trip may also have their part to play in the accident.
Insurance companies facing slip and fall claims will be asking if the person who was injured was wearing footwear appropriate to the conditions that person could reasonably have been expected to anticipate in the area where they fell. They will also want to know how fast the person who fell was walking at the time of the accident. If they were running on ice or in a darkened area, they may be at least partially responsible for their injuries.
The most basic means of preventing slip and fall accidents, however, is not to inspect visitors’ footwear or the speed at which they’re moving. Good housekeeping is the best and most fundamental way to keep visitors to any property safe. Steps to take include:
- Clean any and all spills immediately.
- Put out signs to mark wet floors that have experienced spills or are being mopped.
- Sweep debris off floors on a regular basis
- Make absolutely sure walkways are unobstructed, and keep clutter away from them.
- If your mats, rugs and carpets are not lying flat, then secure them by tacking, taping or any other means required to keep them level.
- Never, ever leave the drawer of a desk, filing cabinet or storage unit open, even for a few moments.
- If it’s absolutely necessary to have cables lying across walkways, ensure they are properly covered and visible.
- Keep work stations and walkways well illuminated. If bulbs or switches are faulty or burned out, replace them immediately.
It’s possible to have the best non-slip flooring system in the world, as well as specialty footwear and even training courses on how to avoid slips and falls. None of those things is worth the money spent on them, however, if housekeeping standards aren’t up to scratch.
Flooring and footwear
Once the housekeeping issue has been resolved, then the next things to look at to prevent slips and falls, particularly at the workplace, are the types of flooring in place and the type of footwear being used. A good, hard-wearing, non-slip floor doesn’t just help reduce the number of slip and fall accidents, it can also reduce foot fatigue.
Other things that should be considered where flooring is concerned are the installation of non-slip mats, pressure-sensitive abrasive strips and metal or synthetic decking.
In some workplaces, floors are naturally going to be wet or slippery on a frequent or even constant basis. In other situations, workers may have to spend a large portion of their time outdoors, possibly in adverse weather conditions.
Is there some new, wonder footwear that suits all conditions? No, there isn’t, so the best thing to do when trying to decide on the best footwear for any given situation is speak to the footwear manufacturers before making your final decision.
Workers can play their part, too
While it’s up to employers to provide a safe work environment for their employees, it would be unfair to place the entire safety burden on their shoulders. Employees have their own responsibilities, and they can help reduce the risks of slips and falls on floors they know to be wet or slippery by:
- Paying attention to where they are going and not rushing to get there
- Being aware of the surface they’re walking on and adjusting their stride and pace accordingly
- Walking slightly pigeon-toed, with their feet pointed slightly outwards
- When getting to a corner, making a wide turn
To avoid trips, employees should only use installed light sources that provide adequate illumination when carrying out their work. If they have to go into a dark room, a flashlight should be used, and when carrying or pushing something, workers should be sure they can still see anything that might be obstructing their path.
Much of what is required to prevent slip and fall injuries in the workplace is common sense, and some requires a bit of effort and maybe even some investment. However, the alternatives could be far more costly. Slip and fall injuries cost Oregon employers lost time and productivity, and they cost employees lost income, considerable medical expenses and occasionally much more besides.
The bottom line is that employers must provide a safe working environment. If you’ve been injured in a slip and fall accident, and you believe it was down to your employer’s (or anyone else’s) negligence, you should do yourself, your family and your fellow employees a favor and contact an experienced slip-and-fall accident attorney to guide you through the complicated process or proving your case.
The attorney will explain to you your rights, your employer’s legal responsibilities, and a good personal injury lawyer will also give sound advice on whether or not to proceed with your claim, as well as the amount of compensation you could reasonably expect to receive. The consultation is free, so see the attorney, get your questions answered and then make your decision.