Path to Safety: Step 14
Almost one in five workplace injuries is the result of a slip, trip or fall. Slips happen where there is too little friction or traction between footwear and the walking surface. Trips happen when your foot collides with (strikes, hits) an object causing you to lose your balance. Falls occur when you lose contact with the walking or working surface. Falls can occur either on the same level or from an elevated surface. Falls from an elevated surface are second only to motor vehicle accidents in the cause of workplace fatalities. OSHA currently is proposing new regulations for general industry relating to fall protection devices and work on elevated levels. More specific information on the proposed regulations can be found at www.osha.gov.
There are many causal factors for slips, trips, and falls, such as ice, wet areas, grease, loose flooring or carpeting, inattention to surroundings, uneven scaffolding planking, clutter, worn rope on descent systems, open desk drawers and filing cabinets, damaged ladder steps, and a more subtle cause--a belief that the action being taken will not lead to an accident. For example, where a ladder is not readily available, employees may improvise and use a chair, or even a 5-gallon bucket, as a way to reach a higher level. In fact, accident data show that many falls could be prevented if existing OSHA regulations and recommended safe practices were followed.
The hazards generally can be grouped into three (often interrelated) factors: equipment, human, and environmental. Examples of some equipment factors include improper footwear, uneven surfaces, foreign substances on surfaces such as oil or litter, and unguarded sides and edges of elevated platforms. Some human factors are inattention, haste, human error, failure to follow instructions, and fatigue. Environmental factors may include poor lighting and weather-related conditions. The presence of multiple factors increases the risk. For instance, a polished marble floor may not present a slipping hazard to someone wearing rubber-soled shoes; however, when the floor is wet from mopping or snow being tracked in from the outdoors, the risk of slipping greatly increases. The addition of other factors such as poor lighting, inattention, and haste are likely to further increase the risk.
Slips and trips can lead to falls that cause injuries such as back strains or other injuries when individuals try to “catch'' themselves. Falls on the same level can cause injuries such as sprains, strains, fractures, and contusions that may affect any area of the body and, on occasion, can be fatal. Falling from an elevated surface increases injury severity and the likelihood of fatalities. Falls from elevations occur in all industries, in all occupations, and in a myriad of work settings--from the employee washing windows from a rope descent system 40 feet from the ground, to the stock clerk retrieving goods from a shelf using a 4-foot stepladder. These tasks represent only two of the numerous tasks that can result in injury or death to employees caused by failures to recognize fall hazards, to use fall protection equipment, or to take appropriate action to abate fall hazards.
While safety is everyone’s responsibility, the employer is required by OSHA standards to ensure a safe work environment with sufficient tools and equipment to safely perform work tasks. It is the responsibility of the employer to ensure that the work environment and tools are routinely inspected and defects are corrected as soon as possible. Further, employers must train workers in how to safely perform all aspects of their jobs and provide supervision to ensure that employees follow directives. On the flip side, it is the responsibility of employees to follow directives for safe job performance, watch for and report hazards and ensure that they routinely maintain high housekeeping standards.
At www.asa.net you can find a toolbox talk with specific steps you and your employees can take to prevent slips, trips and falls. On this site is also a relevant article and toolbox talk on housekeeping which is a fundamental element in preventing slips, trips and falls.
Clearly preventing slips, trips and falls is an essential step on your path to an effective safety program and will positively impact your productivity, the health and well-being of your employees, and a better bottom line.
This article was written in conjunction with participants in the OSHA and ASA Alliance. It does not necessarily reflect the official views of OSHA or the U.S. Department of Labor. This article provides general guidelines for voluntary use by employers and is not intended to provide all necessary safety information and precautions for specific workplace operations and situations. ASA assumes no responsibility or liability for the use of the information provided.