Since early 2020, COVID-19 has drawn a bead on health, including in the nation’s businesses. Healthy workplaces have always mattered, though. One of the most important ways to create a safe environment for employees and guests is to prevent slips and falls.
The most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, reflecting cases through 2018 and published November 7, 2019, indicates that falls, slips and trips are the second-highest cause of non-fatal workplace injuries. More than 25,000 of these accidents happen daily in the United States – one every 17 minutes – according to the National Safety Council. They can cause devastating injuries, significant pain and an inability to work. Lost wages and high medical bills may lead to financial hardship.
Transportation and warehouse workers, health care professionals and food service and hotel workers have the highest slip-and-fall rates, according to Shoes for Crews. But these accidents can happen in any workplace.
Fortunately, employers can follow five best practices to help reduce the risk of slips, trips and falls:
Conduct a risk assessment plan.
A workplace assessment helps identify locations of any hazards that might cause slips, trips or falls. Common risk areas include stairwells, ladders, raised surfaces (including uneven flooring or sidewalks and machinery that requires employees to step up), entryways and parking lots.
Employers should begin gauging risk from the outside in, starting in the parking lot, then progressing up the sidewalk and through the front door. These are the places employees and guests arrive first and, as high-traffic areas, are where accidents often happen. After the exterior review is complete, employers should closely evaluate the building’s interior for risks.
Employers also should identify risks inherent within a job or task, including unsafe conditions, previous accidents in the job and work procedures that might create danger. Hazards should be addressed with corrective measures, additional training and safety measures like PPE or handrails.
Maintain proper lighting.
Poor lighting is associated with an increase in accidents. Every space employees and guests routinely inhabit during work hours should be well-lit. Identifying and correcting poorly lit areas can ensure safety for anyone navigating throughout the facility. For areas like workrooms or closets that are accessed only occasionally, employers should make sure light switches are located close to the door. Workers should be instructed to immediately turn on the lights when they’re entering one of these darkened spaces. Burned-out light bulbs, broken light fixtures and broken or missing pull cords should be replaced immediately.
Curbs, steps and any other uneven or hard-to-see areas should be marked with reflective paint, tape or signage.
Monitor slippery surfaces.
Wet floors caused by spills, mopping and people tracking moisture in on rainy days, among others, can be prevalent in work environments. In fact, worker’s compensation claims are 85% attributable to employees slipping on slick floors. Business owners can reduce the possibility of accidents by putting out “wet floor” signs, mats that absorb moisture or – especially on floors or exterior areas with inclines – putting down anti-skid paint or adhesive striping material. Awnings or covered entryways, handrails and external matting help usher people safely into buildings.
Snow, ice and mud in parking lots should be removed or treated. In extreme weather, it may be necessary to halt access to the area until conditions improve.
Employers also should examine the condition of exterior concrete, tile and stairs. These surfaces not only may become slick during inclement weather events – or even from fallen leaves or residue that builds up between inconsistent cleanings – but also may exhibit seasonal damage from freeze/thaw cycles.
Require proper shoes.
Proper footwear is imperative to preventing slips and falls, regardless of whether employees work in an office, at a construction site or on a plant floor. Some industries require closed-toed shoes or specialized footwear for employees in certain types of jobs. Even for organizations without these requirements, employers should remind workers to choose footwear that provides traction. For those who wear heels, the shoes should enable adequate stability and not be prone to catching on carpeting or uneven surfaces. Shoelaces should be correctly tied.
If a slip or fall does occur, the employee’s footwear should be evaluated to determine whether it contributed to the accident.
Practice good housekeeping.
Anything left on floors can create trip hazards. Employers should regularly check to make sure floors are debris- and clutter-free and instruct employees to do the same. This includes not only common areas like conference and break rooms, aisles, entryways and shop floors, but also employees’ own workstations.
Tools or products required for in-progress projects should be kept apart from the main flow of traffic and, at day’s end, should be organized into a single, out-of-the-way area.
Taking charge of slip, trip and fall prevention is more than just a good workplace practice. OSHA’s Walking-Working Surfaces standard, which took effect January 2017, requires employers to keep all walking-working surfaces clean and orderly. It’s up to employers to inspect these surfaces regularly to ensure they are safe and to consistently train employees to follow the company’s – and OSHA’s – safety requirements.