Workplace falls happen in all kinds of workplaces: The U.S. Department of Labor says slips, trips, and falls are the main cause of most general industry accidents. 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, these accidents are dangerous. The DOL categorizes all slips and trips under “fall” accidents, and 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 Great Cost of Fall Accidents
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 injured employees. 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 team leaders 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; there may be legal fees, plus management time spent dealing with regulators and attorneys. Further, there is the health of the employee to consider—the greatest cost of all.
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.
What Causes Fall Accidents?
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, such as dock plates, construction plates
- Weather hazards, including rain, sleet, ice, snow, hail, frost
- Wet leaves or pine needles
Reducing fall accidents is a great benefit to your employees and workplace. When setting goals to reduce slip, trip, and fall accidents in your industrial workplace or manufacturing facility, consider these workplace tips and visual cues to improve communication about hazards and precautions.
Prevent Accidents by Keeping Work Areas Organized
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, and support your cleaning and organization methods with the 5S/Lean Methodology.
Use Visual Cues to Encourage Caution
When looking to reduce fall accidents, visual cues can help improve overall safety by reminding employees and visitors of proper precautions and safety measures that must be followed. Using floor markings, floor signs, and wall signs is vital in efforts to keep employees aware of possible fall dangers. Some ways to use floor markings for safety include:
- 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 such as floor marking tape, upright signage, or physical barriers to warn employees or unknowing customers walking through.
- Repeating message floor tape ensures employees are aware of hazards in traveled areas, including where it’s safe to walk where caution is necessary while walking.
- If audits and accident reports reveal specific areas where slips or falls often occur, you may want to consider directing your employees via a safer path using visual cues to adjust traffic flow.
Remove Obstacles in Aisles and Walkways
Obstacles, such as clutter, materials, and equipment in aisles, corridors, entranceways, and stairwells, can contribute to falls. Make sure there are policies or procedures in place that require employees to keep these areas organized and unobstructed. Use these tips to keep aisles and walkways safely cleared of clutter:
- Install visual cues with floor tape and signs to remind employees to keep all work areas, passageways, storerooms, and service areas clean and orderly.
- Don’t string cords, cables, or air hoses across hallways or in any designated aisle.
- In office areas, remind staff to not leave 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 on dangerous falls. Explore our Resource Center for more workplace safety tips and information.
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