When we think of workplace accidents our minds usually go immediately to the dramatic. Leaving the humble slip, trip and fall often overlooked.
But more than 25% of injuries sustained across all industries are caused by slips, trips and falls. Furthermore, the majority of this accidents occur on the same level.
The potential for harm and possible seriousness of injury may also sometimes be underestimated. The most common types of injuries that a slip, trip or fall may cause are fractures and dislocated joints. Particularly to the ankle, knee shoulder or wrist. Fractures to fingers are also common. Additionally sprains, cuts and bruises may also occur.
More serious potential for harm is also present. Slips, trips and falls can cause traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and spinal cord damage. These can be serious enough to cause permanent disability and even death. Indeed, slips and trips are responsible for 15% of all accidental deaths.
When can a slip occur?
A slip can occur when there is too little friction/traction between the foot/footwear and the surface that is being walked on. Causes include:
- Walking on a slippy surface, such as one which is wet
- Loose or untethered mats, rugs or carpets
- Weather hazards such as pooled rainwater
- Change surfaces whereby one surface does not have the same degree of traction as another
When can a trip occur?
A trip can occur when a foot collides with an object. This may cause you to lose balance and/or fall. Causes include:
- Uneven steps
- Change levels
- Uneven walking surfaces
- Objects on floor such as trailing cables
- Wrinkles in mats, rugs or carpets
- Poor lighting
“slips and trips are responsible for 15% of all accidental deaths”
Keeping Yourself Safe
Would it surprise you to know that the majority of falls, 67%, happen on the same level? And that only 30% of falls are from a height? You can help to safeguard yourself by walking in a considered manner. Take your time and pay attention to where you are going. Adjust your stride to one suitable for the surface you are walking on and the task you are undertaking. Walk with your feet pointed slightly outward, make wide turns at corners.
Like all hazards in the workplace, potential risk from slips, trips and falls must be identified. A risk assessment will identify issues which may cause harm, such as areas where water may pool. Think about how slips and trips could happen and who might be harmed.
Try asking your employees where they think slip, trip and fall hazards lie as they may notice things that are not obvious to you. Use a hazard-spotting checklist and try a slips and trips mapping tool to help identify problem areas.
“wearing unsuitable shoes can increase the chances of injury from a slip, trip or fall”
So now we know what the problems are, and the possible consequences, how do we avoid their occurrence?
Even very basic measures can have a big effect in reducing the risk of potential slips, trips and falls. Good housekeeping and mopping any spills up immediately will thwart many a trip and fall.
Keep walking areas clear and clutter free, ensure that flooring is in good condition. Check that lighting is sufficient for the area and that clear vision is not obstructed.
Walk at an appropriate gait and wear properly fitting footwear with anti-slip soles.
As mentioned, good housekeeping will provide a sound basis for preventing slips, trips and falls. Without this fundamental in place all other measures will never be fully effective. Look to:
- Clean all spills immediately
- Mark out wet areas
- Ensure floors are kept free of debris and obstacles, including trailing obstacles
- Secure rugs, mats and carpets
- Keep all areas well lit
The next step to take in the prevention of slips, trips and falls is ensuring that flooring will not contribute to an incident. Change or modify via:
- Painting floors with abrasive paint
- Using abrasive slips on edges
- Ensure that decking is synthetic
- Ensure matted flooring well fitted and secured
Additional Slip, Trip and Fall Hazards Whilst Cleaning
Often slips, trips and falls occur on floors that have been left wet after cleaning. Stop access during this period by using barriers and locking doors.
Be sure to inform and train cleaners regarding slips, trips and falls so that they understand why duties must be undertaken in a particular way and/or at a particular time.
To avoid creating additional slip, trip and fall hazards during cleaning ensure that:
- Use the correct amount of cleaning product
- Use the correct cleaning product for the job
- Allow detergents time to work on greasy floors
- Ensure that cleaning equipment so it remains effective, report any defects or wear and tear
- Use a dry mop or squeegee on wet floors to reduce floor-drying time, remembering that damp floors still have a slip risk
- Spot clean only where possible
Post Safety Signs to Remind Everyone of Hazards
Keep staff alert. Make sure that everyone can recognise and avoid slip, trip and fall hazards.
- In particular where spills have occurred
- Whilst cleaning is taking place
- Whilst work is being undertaken which involves trailing cables
Bear in mind though that signs and cones only warn of a hazard, they do not prevent people from entering the area. If the spill is not visible, is it usually not perceived.
Wear Proper Footwear
Wearing the right shoes can substantially reduce the risk of a slip, trip or fall. Think of the right footwear as a tool, the use of which can make your work a whole lot easier.
Wearing unsuitable footwear is the cause of approximately 24% of industrial slip, trip and fall injuries. The reasons behind this can range from office workers wearing smooth soled and high-heeled shoes in production and industrial areas, or wearing shoes for so long that the tread has well-worn down.
The right shoes will protect feet from harmful elements that can cause slips, trips and falls. The shoes should further protect workers from static electricity, falling objects, explosions, exposure to hazardous substances and other risks. The wearing of unsuitable shoes, such as those made of thin fabrics, open-toed or with high or thin heels, can increase the chances of injury from a slip, trip or fall.
Know your environment!
When selecting footwear to avoid slips, trips and falls, firstly, think about what is making the surface you may be walking on slippery. Shoes designed to be slip-resistant in wet and outdoor conditions may not be as effective on a shop floor coated with oil and/or chemicals.
Similarly, shoes used by restaurant employees often stepping in water or food-based oils may find that their shoes quickly degrade when coming into contact with these elements.
Fortunately, many footwear options are now available suitable for all kinds of environments. Ask the safety footwear manufacturers and suppliers for advice and guidance when choosing shoes for specific needs.
What Should I Look For?
First and foremost the footwear you chose should be a comfortable fit.
In a well-fitting shoe with good grip you will find that your balance automatically improves, which will in itself help to prevent slips, trips and falls. Ensure that the shoe has a secure grip on your heel, if the shoe is too large it can increase your chances of tripping. Do ensure that the shoes is not too tight though that it pinches.
Beware the safety shoe as it is not a cure-all! I personally have experience of wearing heavy steel toe cap boots for a long day’s work involving lots of walking and being left with a painful circle of ankle bruises. If your job involves standing on your feet for long hours or lots of walking, there may well be an amount of swelling – ensure that the footwear you chose factors this in. Some shoes offer features such as polyurethane “cages” on both sides of the shoe that can offer a bespoke fit if more tightness is desired.
“sole tread pattern and sole compound are both important for slip resistance”
Soles and Treads
No single tread pattern is superior. But in general look for soles that:
- Grip the ground firmly, very deep treads may feel unstable
- Have tunnels to channel water or oil away from the shoe
- Have circular grips, as opposed to square or triangular grips to help prevent hydroplaning
In the case of all shoes, look for a slip resistant sole. Bear in mind though that some generally slip resistant footwear may not be suitable in specific demanding conditions. An example is footwear that performs well in the wet might not be suitable on oily surfaces.
- The sole tread pattern and sole compound are both important for slip resistance. In general, a softer sole and close packed tread pattern work well with fluid contaminants
- Be aware though if you work in an environment with sticky food spillages these may clog tread pattern
- An open tread pattern works better outdoors or with solid contaminants.
- Soles of footwear should be cleaned regularly so as not to become clogged with any waste or debris. If sole clogging is proving an issue, then look for an alternative design, such as one with a wider space between the cleats or a deeper tread pattern
- Slip resistant properties may change with wear, have a system for checking and replacing footwear before it becomes hazardous
Deep Heel Cups
If you work in an environment where there are trip hazards, pay attention to choosing footwear with a deep heel cup, as opposed to a low-cut shoe. If tripping occurs our natural reaction is to try and readjust our position to prevent a fall. A deep heel cup gives additional ankle stability and reduces risk of ankle and/or foot injury.
Another advantage of a deep heel cup is that the foot remains aligned with the knees, hips and ankles. Limiting pronation, where the foot rolls inward, and reducing pain in the feet and back.
Wear Light Footwear
As per my previous example of my bruising caused by wearing heavy safety boots, as far as possible try to ensure that your footwear is light. Heavy footwear also makes you feel tired. Feeling tired and unfocussed at work increases the chances of tripping and falling, particularly at the end of a long day.
Know the Limits
No footwear is slip proof. The same goes for glasses, ear plugs and head protection, the perfect PPE does not exist. Footwear also can wear quickly and establishing a regular change out schedule will help to ensure that shoes aren’t worn past their prime and then become hazards themselves.
When choosing safety footwear you can commission slip and suitability testing through the supplier. Checking if they will work on surfaces and with exposure to contaminants representative of your workplace. Whatever you do, do not select footwear on the basis of brochure descriptions or laboratory test results alone!
Be Sure to Include Everyone!
Introducing the right type of footwear as part of an overall safety programme can help to decrease the likelihood of a slip, trip and fall injuries.
Set clear health and safety guidelines about what types of footwear are suitable for employees to prevent slips, trips and falls. Don’t forget to include office workers, especially those who enter slippery production areas in office shoes. They are more prone to injury than workers who are in the area daily, are used to the conditions and wear appropriate footwear.
For these employees perhaps provide stocking slip resistant shoe covers at the entrances to the production areas, perhaps a more viable solution than requiring everyone to wear safety shoes at all times. When choosing footwear, trial samples with a representative sample of the workforce, be sure that the trial lasts long enough to produce meaningful results. Don’t forget that in reality though employees will not wear footwear if it is uncomfortable or impractical, no matter how effective the trial shows it is.