Walking through the workplace may seem like a simple task that doesn’t require much attention. It’s often that type of thinking that leads to an environment where workers experience slips, trips and falls too frequently.
According to OSHA, the majority of accidents in general industry are the result of slips, trips and falls, and these accidents cause 15 percent of accidental deaths in the workplace (which is second only to work-related motor vehicle accidents). Many of these serious accidents are the result of falls from heights, but slips and trips on the same level still cause numerous accidents.
Today we’re going to examine slips, trips and falls that occur on the same level. This time of year when floors can be slippery from ice and snow, it’s more important than ever to make sure your workplace takes the necessary steps to prevent slip or trip accidents.
OSHA Walking-Working Surfaces Standard
OSHA regulations related to slips, trips and falls are found under 29 CFR 1910 Section D. This section covers many topics related to falls, including falls from heights. General requirements for walking surfaces can be found at 29 CFR 1910.22.
This section covers the importance of maintaining floors and walkways in good condition, marking aisles and passageways and providing fall protection as needed.
OSHA proposed a new rule in 2010 for walking-working surfaces and fall protection, which would affect sections D and I of standard 1910 (I pertains to personal protective equipment such as personal fall arrest systems). The rule is expected to be finalized this year and will update the current regulations to reflect new technologies.
Consequently, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on OSHA announcements related to workplace falls in the near future. Let’s take a closer look at what you can do now, though, to minimize slip, trip and fall hazards in your workplace.
Slip, Trip & Fall Hazards (and How to Deal with Them)
During the winter, slippery work surfaces can become a bigger problem than usual. Workers and visitors may track ice and snow indoors, which can melt and create a hazard. For outdoor workers, icy sidewalks, parking lots and other surfaces can be a problem.
Slippery surfaces aren’t only a winter issue, though. In workplaces where water is part of work processes, floors can always be slippery. Polished floors can also be slick, as can surfaces where grease and other liquids have spilled.
To deal with these hazards, you can take a variety of steps. Indoors, set up a housekeeping system for putting out wet floor signs and quickly cleaning up spills. Outdoors, determine whether sand or salt will be used on pavement. In work environments where floors are always wet, install drains and mats for workers to stand on. Traction tape can also be used in wet areas and entryways to prevent slips and falls.
Uneven surfaces can cause people to trip and fall, especially if they aren’t paying attention or are carrying a load that blocks their vision. Small things such as carpeting or a loose floorboard can make the floor uneven.
To prevent trips, select carpets whose edges angle toward the floor to prevent corners from curling up. If floorboards could be an issue, make a schedule for checking and fixing any problem sections. For any uneven parts that cannot be eliminated from the walking surface, try marking them with hazard tape so workers notice them. (You can see this technique in the photo below.)
We touched on the need for good housekeeping practices for cleaning up spills and wet spots above, but poor housekeeping in general can lead to slips, trips and falls if you aren’t careful. When you don’t have protocols in place for cleaning up work areas or putting away tools or materials when you’ve finished using them, clutter can trip workers who aren’t paying attention.
It’s a good idea to make housekeeping a part of everyone’s job so clutter doesn’t accumulate and get overlooked. Implementing 5S, an organizational system that aims to eliminate unnecessary items from the workplace and keep everything in appropriate locations, can help you achieve this.
Leaving drawers open, stacking boxes in hallways and using extension cords can all create tripping hazards. If you don’t have policies for keeping unnecessary stuff out of the way, this stuff can become dangerous.
A Dollar General store in New York was recently fined for blocking exits and fire extinguishing equipment with merchandise, display racks and other supplies. These obstacles became such a problem at this business that the company got in trouble for additional safety regulations related to emergency exits, not just walking surfaces.
Larger obstacles can be made a part of your housekeeping plan, too. Ask workers to put things away when they’re done with them and make sure storage areas are clearly marked so things don’t end up blocking walkways.
In some cases, the shoes your workers wear can contribute to slips, trips and falls. Sure, it may seem obvious that someone wearing high heels or other shoes with poor traction could struggle to walk on a slippery or uneven surface. Even workers with boots could slip and fall under certain conditions, though.
If your workplace is slippery, make sure everyone wears shoes with enough traction. Consider providing ice cleats for workers who spend time outdoors in icy conditions.
Encourage employees to find shoes that fit them properly, too. A shoe that’s too large or too small could lead to fatigue or to someone feeling off balance. Both of these circumstances could make a person more susceptible to slipping or tripping.
What’s the best way to avoid slipping or tripping? Pay attention to where you’re walking. If it’s difficult to see the floor, this can obviously be more difficult to do.
Workplaces should make sure that lighting is adequate, especially in areas where surfaces might be more difficult to navigate. Additional lights might need to be added to dim areas. Emergency lighting along exit routes could also help people find their way during a power outage.
Sometimes visual cues can improve the way people see and interpret a walking surface, too. For example, yellow floor marking tape that’s used to mark aisles and walkways (as seen in the photo above) communicates where people should walk. It can prevent collisions with vehicles and guide people through a facility on the easiest pathway. Other colors of tape can be used to mark hazards or provide information specific to your facility.
In general, if you have slip, trip and fall hazards that cannot be eliminated, you should mark them. Signs and labels can help with this task, too.