It happens in all kinds of workplaces – an accidental fall. Whether an employee misses a step on the stairs, forgets about the step-up on the loading dock, or slips in an area where moisture has pooled on the floor, falls are a common way businesses lose productivity and money.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, slips, trips and falls are the cause of most general industry accidents. The DOL categorizes all slips and trips under “fall” accidents. According to statistics, falls account for:
- 15 percent of all accidental deaths per year, the second-leading cause behind motor vehicles
- About 25 percent of all reported injury claims per fiscal year
- More than 95 million lost work days per year — about 65% of all work days lost
The direct costs of injuries and illnesses are pretty clear: those claimed under worker’s compensation insurance and/or disability insurance. But did you know that indirect costs – those not directly related to the injury but occurring as a result of the injury – can be even greater? Because every injury and its impact on the worksite in which it happened is different, indirect costs can be difficult to compute. The American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE) puts the ratio of indirect to direct costs anywhere from 1:1 to 20:1.
These indirect costs include the lost time of the injured employee. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates, for example, that for workers in construction, each nonfatal occupational injury or illness in 2015 resulted in 13 median days away from work. There is also lost time for the other employees who stop work to treat the injured person.
The indirect costs mount from there: supervisors and foremen need to investigate the cause of the accident. Damaged machinery, tools and other property may need to be repaired or a spill cleaned up. You may need to train a new employee to replace the injured one or make arrangements for the work to be done by someone else. And there may be legal fees, plus management time spent dealing with regulators and attorneys.
How costly is all of this? According to the 2017 Liberty Mutual Insurance Workplace Safety Index, workplace injuries and accidents that caused employees to miss six or more days of work cost U.S. employers $59.9 billion in 2014, the most recent year for which statistically valid injury data are available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and the National Academy of Social Insurance.
In general, slips and trips occur due to a loss of traction between the shoe and the walking surface or an inadvertent contact with a fixed or moveable object which may lead to a fall. There are a variety of situations that may cause slips, trips and falls:
- Wet or greasy floors
- Dry floors with wood dust or powder
- Uneven walking surfaces
- Polished or freshly waxed floors
- Loose flooring, carpeting or mats
- Transition from one floor type to another
- Missing or uneven floor tiles and bricks
- Damaged or irregular steps; no handrails
- Sloped walking surfaces
- Shoes with wet, muddy, greasy or oily soles
- Electrical cords or cables
- Open desk or file cabinet drawers
- Damaged ladder steps
- Ramps and gang planks without skid-resistant surfaces
- Metal surfaces - dock plates, construction plates
- Weather hazards – rain, sleet, ice, snow, hail, frost
- Wet leaves or pine needles
Here are a few tips to help cut down on falls in your work place.
Keep work areas clean and tidy
Safety and housekeeping go hand in hand. If your facility’s housekeeping habits are poor, the result may be a higher incidence of employee injuries, ever-increasing insurance costs and regulatory citations. If an organization’s facilities are noticeably clean and well organized, it is a good indication that its overall safety program is effective as well.
Proper housekeeping is a routine and sustained. It is an ongoing procedure that is simply done as a part of each worker’s daily performance. To create an effective housekeeping program, there are three simple steps to get you started:
- Plan ahead. Know what needs to be done, who’s going to do it and what the particular work area should look like when you are done.
- Assign responsibilities. It may be necessary to assign a specific person or group of workers to clean up, although personal responsibility for cleaning up after oneself is preferred.
- Implement a program. Establish housekeeping procedures as a part of the daily routine.
Use Visual Cues to remind workers to be cautious
Using floor markings, floor signs and wall signs is vital in your efforts to keep employees aware of possible fall dangers. If you have a work area where climate controls cause the floor to be slippery or wet, make sure you have floor signs and wall signs advising employees to be aware.
Have an unusual dip or split in the floor surface? Use a visual cue to warn employees or unknowing customers walking through.
Using repeating message floor tape is also a good way to make sure employees are aware of where it’s safe to walk or to be cautious when walking. If there’s a path that is always causing slips or falls, you may want to consider creating a pathway with repeating message floor tape AROUND the dangerous floor. Direct your employees to a safer path with visual cues.
Get rid of obstacles in aisles and walkways
Obstacles, clutter, materials and equipment in aisles, corridors, entranceways and stairwells can also be a cause for falls. Make sure there are policies or procedures in place that require employees to keep these area clear of danger. Some tips to get this done include:
- Keep all work areas, passageways, storerooms and service areas clean and orderly.
- Avoid stringing cords, cables or air hoses across hallways or in any designated aisle.
- In office areas, avoid leaving boxes, files or briefcases in the aisles.
- Encourage safe work practices, such as closing file cabinet drawers after use and picking up loose items from the floor.
- Conduct periodic inspections for slip and trip hazards.
Protecting your employees from injuries isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s better for your business’ bottom line. Good housekeeping practices, using visual cues to make sure your workplace is visually organized and keeping pedestrian paths and work areas clear of obstacles and debris are good first steps in cutting down the chances of one of your employees taking a fall.
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