Accident Prevention: Slips, Trips and Falls
Slips, trips, and falls constitute the majority of general industry accidents. Second only to motor vehicle accidents; slips, trips and falls are the most frequent accidents leading to personal injury. Slips trips and falls can result in head injuries, back injuries, broken bones, cuts and lacerations, or sprained muscles. The Bureau of State Risk Management has identified "slips, trips and falls" as one of the top five causes of workers' compensation claims over the last six years.
A "slip" occurs when there is too little traction or friction between the shoe and walking surface. A "trip" occurs when a person’s foot contacts an object in their way or drops to a lower level unexpectedly, causing them to be thrown off-balance. A trip most often results in a person falling forward, while a slip most often results in the person falling backward. A "fall" occurs when you are too far off-balance.
There are many situations that may cause slips, trips, and falls, such as ice, wet spots, grease, polished floors, loose flooring or carpeting, uneven walking surfaces, clutter, electrical cords, open desk drawers and filing cabinets. Loose, irregular surfaces such as gravel, shifting floor tiles, and uneven sidewalks, can make it difficult to maintain your footing. Most slip, trip and fall incidents are preventable with general precautions and safety measures.
Injuries from falls may be caused by a variety of sources. Many of these sources, like curbs, flaws in parking lots and uneven lawns, are not of significant height, but have the potential to cause significant injuries. The best way to prevent injuries such as these is to be aware of where you are going and pay attention to your walking surface.
Report even a minor fall. It could prevent someone from experiencing a more serious injury down the line.
Some of the Factors Contributing to Slips, Trips and Falls Include:
Wet or Slippery Surfaces
Wet or slippery surfaces are a major cause of slips. 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 (spills, rain, snow and mud) is present. Food preparation areas and residential dorm bathrooms and kitchens are also a high risk for slippery surfaces.
The following are some simple ways to reduce the liklihood of a slip and/or fall on wet or slippery floors:
- Use anti-skid adhesive tape in high traffic areas
- Use absorbent mats in entrance ways during inclement weather. (Caution: Unanchored mats may cause slip hazards themselves. Make sure that mats lie flat and that the backing material will not slide on the floor.)
- Display wet floor signs when appropriate, note that signs are a great awareness tool but should not be the only means of control. Clean up spills and wet floors as soon as practical.
- Have a procedure to deal with spills and ensure spills are reported and cleaned up immediately.
- Use proper mats in areas that tend to be “spill prone” (bathing facilities, food preparations)
- When wet processes are used, maintain proper drainage or use platform mats
If you must walk on a slippery surface:
- Wear proper footwear for better traction on slippery surfaces
- Point your feet slightly outward, keeping your center of balance under you
- Take slow, small steps
- Use your feet as probes to detect possible slip, trip and fall hazards
- Get your feet underneath your body quickly to maintain your balance after an initial step
- Use rails or other stable objects that you can hold onto
- Protect the more vulnerable parts of you body like your head, neck and spine if you do fall
When moving from carpet to tile or dry tile to wet tile, etc. the friction (grip) between the sole of the shoe and the floor surface lessens. Alter your stride to take shorter, slower steps.
No matter how well the snow and ice are removed from campus sidewalks, parking lots and the surrounding streets, people will invariably encounter some slippery surfaces when walking outdoors in the winter. Many cold-weather injuries are the result of falls on ice-covered streets and sidewalks. Walking on snow or ice is especially treacherous. Getting around on campus in icy conditions calls for planning, caution, and a little common sense.
- Dress warmly and wear boots with non-skid soles (avoid plastic and leather soles).
- Keep warm, but make sure you can hear what's going on around you. Wear a bright scarf or hat or reflective gear so drivers can see you, and whatever you wear, make sure it doesn't block your vision or make it hard for you to hear traffic.
- A heavy backpack or other load can challenge your sense of balance. Try not to carry too much--you need to leave your hands and arms free to better balance yourself.
- During the daytime, wear sunglasses to help you see better and avoid hazards. At night, wear bright clothing or reflective gear. Dark clothing will make it difficult for motorists to see you--especially if they aren't expecting you.
- When entering a building, remove as much snow and water from your boots as possible. Take notice that floors and stairs may be wet and slippery. Walk carefully.
- Be prepared to fall and try to avoid using your arms to break your fall. If you fall backward, make a conscious effort to tuck your chin so your head doesn't strike the ground with a full force.
- Use special care when entering and exiting vehicles--use the vehicle for support.
Streets and sidewalks that have been cleared of snow and ice should still be approached with caution. Look out for "black ice." Dew, fog or water vapor can freeze on cold surfaces and form an extra-thin, nearly invisible layer of ice that can look like a wet spot on the pavement. It often shows up early in the morning or in areas that are shaded from the sun.
Insufficient or Inadequate Lighting
Insufficient light can make it difficult to see obstacles and notice changes in the walking surface and is associated with an increase in accidents. Move slowly where light is dim and pay increased attention to your path of travel. Moving too fast increases the likelihood you will misjudge a step or encounter a hazard before you have a chance to notice it. Moving from light to dark areas, or vice versa, can cause temporary vision problems that might be just enough to cause a person to slip on an oil spill or trip over a misplaced object.
Changes in Elevation
Changes in elevation are a major source of trip accidents. Even a change in walking surface of ¼ – ½” or greater will be sufficient to cause a trip. Curbs, cracks in the sidewalk, ramps and single steps are all examples of these hazards.
Another type of working and walking surface fall is the "step and fall." This occurs when the front foot lands on a surface lower than expected, such as when unexpectedly stepping off a curb in the dark. A second type of step and fall occurs when one steps forward or down, and either the inside or outside of the foot lands on an object higher than the other side. The ankle turns, and one tends to fall forward and sideways. Changes in elevation may be unavoidable, but there are some simple ways to reduce accidents caused by these hazards:
- Watch for bumps, potholes, sidewalk cracks or changes in elevation
- If you identify a problem area on campus, report it to the Department of Facility Services
Climbing or Descending Stairways
Nearly half of all falls occur on stairs. Keeping stairs in good repair is essential to preventing accidents. Make sure that stairways have secure handrails and guardrails, even surfaces, even tread heights and are free of deteriorating coverings such as frayed carpet.
To prevent an accident, awareness and prevention is key. Here are some simple ways to prevent a fall incident on stairways:
- Whether going up or down stairs, always use the handrail
- Make sure stairways are well lit, with on/off switches at the top and bottom
- Make sure stairways are clear of any obstacles
- If you are wearing footwear such as high heels or sandals, use extra caution while going up and down
- If throw rugs are positioned at the top or bottom of stairways, make sure they are secured with a skid-resistant backing
- Routinely check stairs for loose or worn carpeting
- Report outdoor stairways if you notice ice, snow or water accumulation
- When carrying objects up and down steps, be sure you are able to see where you are stepping and hold onto the handrail if possible
The chance of fall accidents in stairways increases with inattention, illness, fatigue and haste. Take care when ascending and descending stairways.
Housekeeping Issues in Working and Walking Areas
Proper housekeeping in work and walking areas can contribute to safety and the prevention of falls. Not only is it important to maintain a safe working environment and walking surface, these areas must also be kept free of obstacles which can cause slips and trips. Obstacles could include clutter, obstructions across hallways and material stacked or dumped in passageways, etc.
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, run overhead or a ramp should run over any cords and hoses.
Regular frequent inspections of working and walking areas should be conducted to identify environmental and equipment hazards which could cause slips, trips and falls.