Slips, Trips, and Falls on Same Level Surfaces
The terms slips, trips, and falls are commonly grouped into a single expression. However, in this section we will focus on the first two terms, slips and trips, and more specifically, slips and trips on the same level. Although falls are certainly a result, this module will primarily concentrate on causes of slips and trips and identify administrative controls to abate or minimize these types of mishaps. Statistics show that a majority of falls occur on the same level.
In general, slips and trips occur due to loss of traction between the shoe and the walking surface or an inadvertent contact with a fixed or movable object.
Good housekeeping is paramount. If good housekeeping practices are not enforced, other administrative control measures implemented will never be fully effective.
It has often been said that safety and housekeeping go hand in hand. This is extremely true, especially when addressing the serious issue of slips, trips, and falls. If your facility’s housekeeping habits are poor, the result may well be 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. In addition to safety, disorderly work environments can negatively impact the morale of employees who must function in a job site that is dirty, hazardous, and poorly managed.
Obviously housekeeping is not the “minor” issue many people suppose it to be.
According to the National Safety Council, workers are injured from slips, trips, and falls more than any other occupational injury. These can often be avoided if proper housekeeping procedures are used. It is not uncommon for a worker to trip on a piece of equipment or tool that they themselves forgot to put away.
Good housekeeping includes picking up, wiping up, and cleaning up.
It includes the prompt removal of scrap and waste. It is reflected in the old adage of “having a place for everything and putting everything in its place.” Sometimes housekeeping is delegated to janitorial services. However, like “safety” itself, housekeeping is everyone’s responsibility.
Proper housekeeping is a routine. It is an ongoing procedure that is simply done as a part of each worker’s daily performance. When each individual does his/her part to keep work areas clean, then a successful housekeeping program will be the result.
Every workplace is subject to either good or bad housekeeping. Factories, warehouses, laboratories, kitchens, hospitals, and offices … the list is endless. In all of these diverse areas good housekeeping can be achieved by establishing a simple three step program.
- Plan Ahead – Know what needs to be done, who’s going to do it, and what the work area should look like when you’re done.
- Assign Responsibilities – If necessary, a person should be specifically assigned to clean up (although personal responsibility for cleaning up after him/herself is preferred).
- Implement a Program – Establish housekeeping as a part of the daily routine (an ongoing procedure).
Wet or Slippery Surfaces
Slips and trips on walking surfaces are a significant portion of injuries reported by covered state agencies. The specific types of surfaces involved in these injuries vary considerably, but some of the more frequently reported are:
- parking lots;
- sidewalks (or lack of);
- food preparation areas and shower stalls in residential dorms; and,
- floors in general.
Traction on outdoor surfaces can change drastically when subjected to environmental factors such as rain or sleet or on indoor surfaces when moisture is tracked in by pedestrian traffic. Some administrative controls that can be implemented outdoors include the following.
- Keep areas, such as the parking lots and sidewalks, clean and in good repair condition.
- If snow or ice are a factor, additional controls can be implemented to either remove the snow where feasible or, in the case of ice, to treat the surface with sand or other environmentally friendly material. If surfaces are sloped, an additional precaution may be to temporarily suspend use of the area.
- Use adhesive stripping material or anti-skid paint wherever possible.
A wide variety of surfaces are available indoors. Although most provide some degree of slip resistance in their original state, there are some exceptions. Highly polished floors such as marble, terrazzo, or ceramic tile can be extremely slippery even when dry and definitely increases the potential for a slip when moisture is present. Other types of floors may not have the built-in hazard such as the decorative ones mentioned, but they present a hazard especially in the presence of moisture, liquid spills, or food. Some agencies have additional unique exposures in this area, such as those with food services departments and bathing facilities for residential care workers.
Control measures that can be implemented indoors to prevent, or minimize as much as possible, injuries caused by wet surfaces include the following.
- Anti-skid adhesive tape is an excellent and economically feasible fix to combat slips or trips.
- During inclement weather conditions, moisture-absorbent mats should be placed in entrance areas. Caution: Improper mats can become tripping hazards themselves. Floor mats should have beveled edges, lie flat on the floor, and be made out of material or contain a backing that will not slide on the floor.
- Have readily available and display wet floor signs. An additional caution: A wet floor signs is a valuable tool to attract attention, but should not in of itself be a sole control technique. It is also important that once the hazard is removed the sign is also removed. Otherwise, they become commonplace and lose their intended effectiveness.
- Have a policy or procedure implemented articulating the appropriate action to be taken when someone causes or comes across a food or liquid spill.
- Proper area rugs or mats should be used in food preparation areas or bathing facilities. A more expensive, however effective, measure in these particular areas is chemical treatment of the floor surface, which increases the coefficient of friction when moisture is present.
- Where wet processes are used, maintain adequate drainage, mats, and false floors wherever possible.
Obstacles in Walkways
Injuries can also result from trips caused by reasons other than slippery surfaces, namely inadvertent contact with obstacles or other types of material (debris) and/or equipment. For example, obstacles could include obstructions across hallways, material stacked or dumped in passageways, clutter, and the list can go on. Of course proper housekeeping in work and walking areas is still the most effective control measure in avoiding these types of hazards. This means having policies or procedures in place and allowing time for cleaning the area, especially where scrap material or waste is a by-product of the work operation. Keep aisles and corridors clean, clear, and in good repair to the maximum extent possible. This is especially true in office environment where there is a common tendency to store or stack material, especially boxes, in hallways and corridors. Not only is this an unsafe practice conducive to a tripping hazard but also a source of fuel in the event of a fire. The following are some control measures that can be implemented.
- Insist on good housekeeping and keep all work areas, passageways, storerooms, and service areas clean and orderly.
- Where mechanical handling devices are used, such as storage areas or warehouses, allow sufficient clearance for maneuvering of the equipment.In highly congested or trafficked areas provide separate and marked permanent aisles and passageways for both equipment and pedestrian traffic.
- Avoid stringing cords or lines across hallways or in any walkway. If it is necessary to do so, it should be on a temporary basis (i.e., power cords, telephone lines, etc.) and, then the item should be taped down.
- In the office environment, emphasize caution on where people leave carrying items such as briefcases, boxes, etc.
- Encourage safe work practices such as closing file cabinet drawers after use and pick up and stow loose items from the floor.
- Maintain constant vigilance for slip and trip hazards through periodic inspections.
Maintain Proper Lighting
Inadequate lighting can hide items that are in your way, so replace light fixtures or bulbs that don’t work. Keep work areas well lit and clean. When you enter a darkened room, always turn on the light first, even if you stay only for a minute. Keep walkways clear of obstructions, especially in areas with poor lighting. Have accessible light switches and a handy place where a flashlight can be found. Motion-sensitive lights can improve safety and energy as well. Repair fixtures and cords immediately if they malfunction — don’t wait until someone trips and falls in a darkened room. Move slowly where light is dim. Store items a safe distance from light bulbs. Towels or paper can catch fire from a bulb that’s been left on. Proper lighting will ensure that employees detect obstructions and avoid slippery areas. Use proper illumination in walkways, staircases, hallways, and basements to help people avoid slips, trips, and falls. Do not ignore flickering lights, blown fuses or sparks. Have a qualified electrician check the wiring. Don’t overload outlets or use extension cords without inspecting them first. Also, check for frays and cracks and note the cord’s limit.
Burning a 100-watt bulb in a lamp designed for 60 watts is a fire hazard. Most lamps have wattage instructions written along the socket. Use cords with caution. Extension cords are meant for temporary use and should not be used to plug more items into a single outlet. If you have cords running throughout the facility, have an electrician install additional outlets.
Poor lighting in the workplace is associated with an increase in accidents. Direct and reflected glares and shadows, as well as delayed eye adaption when moving from a bright area into a dark one, may prevent an employee form seeing tripping and other similar hazards. It is certainly important to maintain consistent lighting in emergency evacuation routing and to check these systems on a regular basis.
There are a number of measures that can be used to prevent and control poor lighting conditions in the work environment.
- Task lamps are effective in supplementing general office lighting for those who require or prefer additional lighting. Some task lamps permit several light levels.
- Diffuse light to help reduce shadows. Indirect lighting and task lighting are recommended, especially when work spaces are separated by dividers.
- Adjustable shades should be used if workers face a window.
- Whenever possible, office workers should not face windows, unshielded lamps, or other sources of glare.
- A light-colored matte finish on walls, ceilings, and floors to reduce glare is recommended by the Illuminating Engineering Society.
- Regular maintenance of the lighting system should be carried out to clean or replace old bulbs and faulty lamp circuits.
- Ensure proper light in an office setting (28-50 foot candles where VDTs are being used).
Occupational Safety and Health Administration 29 CFR 1926.56
1926.56 (a) – “General. Construction areas, ramps, runways, corridors, offices, shops, and storage areas shall be lighted to not less than the minimum illumination intensities listed in table D-3 while any work is in progress:”
Table D-3 – Minimum Illumination Intensities in Foot-Candles
|Foot-Candles||Area of Operation|
|5||General construction area lighting|
|3||General construction areas, concrete placement, excavation and waste areas, access ways, active storage areas, loading platforms, refueling, and field maintenance areas|
|5||Indoors: warehouses, corridors, hallways, and exit ways|
|5||Tunnels, shafts, and general underground work areas (exception: minimum of 10 foot-candles is required at tunnel and shaft heading during drilling, mucking, and scaling. Bureau of Mines approved cap lights shall be acceptable for use in the tunnel heading)|
|10||General construction plant and shops (e.g., batch plants, screening plants, mechanical and electrical equipment rooms, carpenter shops, rigging lofts and active store rooms, mess halls, and indoor toilets and workrooms)|
|30||First aid stations, infirmaries, and offices.|