Strictly Come Dancing…
On occasion, when called for by the mood and moment, my dad performs a specific routine for us, his brood. Over the years his audience has extended to those who have become family either through marriage or many years of friendship with these, the original members.
He has been doing this for what feels like forever, however, when the circumstances arise and he decides to execute the performance, it still has us all reeling with pleats of laughter in exactly the same manner as if we were witnessing it for the very first time…
Let me explain. So, this sequence consists of him starting with a slow jig of sorts as he shifts his weight in a somewhat deliberate manner from one foot to the other. A few seconds in, he points to his head and states in a (horrendously stern tone of voice) …” up here for thinking” … a few seconds later he will point to his feet and in an equally stern voice announce, “down there for dancing” …
I have absolutely no clue from where this originates or even why it amuses us so intensely.
However, the relevant message conveyed for the purpose of this article is that, whatever the feet are up to, it’s still the head that should be in control…
Full steam ahead now with the actual topic of this article; slips, trips and falls in the workplace.
This subject cannot be debated without the obvious inclusion of one’s feet so let us kick off with a common contributing problem that leads to these trips and slips, namely, footwear.
Safety shoes and boots distributed at the workplace are one of the most important, yet often underestimated, items of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) that we as safety professionals have the challenge of being part of when procuring and issuing.
Working with heavy manufacturing concerns in mind, it is fair to say that we are heavy on boots and shoes. Work in this industry for most employees is tough and physical, and taking the brunt of such an environment is the humble shoe or boot of each employee. No other item of company-issued equipment is worn as frequently, day in, day out with little care or thought, yet expected to perform miracles. This is not only to keep us comfortable whilst on our feet for the best part of a day or night, but to ensure our feet are protected too.
Stand and Deliver
Dependant on the environment, safety footwear must live up to protecting against its daily foes.
This being said, the nature and condition of said footwear is important in ensuring that it does not succumb to hazards that otherwise could have been avoided.
It is important to note that a holistic approach should be taken in terms of footwear specifications and that requirements should not be considered for suitability in any workplace, in isolation.
An example in practise of the above is one I learned from a colleague who is part of my professional network. He had recently joined a construction company who were experiencing excessive injury trends involving ankles. Strains, sprains and even a broken ankle or two had been reported over a relatively short period.
In response to this ankle pandemic, the company had decided to hold a mass exodus from their previous brand of safety footwear and convert to a brand with the promise of additional support around ankles and a firmer fit of boot in general. For a few weeks it seemed they had solved the problem. All quiet on the ankle injury front, however, slowly starting to creep onto the statistics were the reports of slips and falls. Upon further investigation, it appeared as though the boots did not offer the same level of slip resistance as their predecessors. Possibly the taut fit interfered with the flexibility required when walking? These questions and results were tried and tested by the company until a suitable alternative had been found.
“dependant on the environment, safety footwear must live up to protecting against its daily foes”
In my experience, I have found that when considering any prospective new personal protective equipment, it is always helpful to test the product initially, on a select few. The manner in which the sample group is selected is relevant. A good cross selection is preferable, including all the disciplines that may be affected. Maybe not as scientific in practice, however, I like to include a real moaner or two as well as a couple of those employees who may be considered as accident prone (if you believe there is such a thing). This selection, diluted with a couple of ‘dependables’ and a sprinkling of other specific choice samples is prudent for a relatively fair and reliable result. Feedback should be monitored, and timelines provided for such feedback. This enables an informed decision, considering the specifications as well as the human factor, prior to taking a decision that will directly impact the employee as well as the all too important, bottom line.
VIPs… Very Important Pedestrians
Clients being as clients are, are eager to pay a visit to the premises who have been graced with their order, to measure progress on their up-and-coming work pieces.
Potential clients are much the same, keen to check out the facilities as well as the prospective birthplace of their potential orders, which eventually transform into components that form part of their critical plant equipment.
It’s a given: clients are going to visit your premises. This creates an opportunity to show case what is on offer; to boast with machinery bigger than they have ever seen; to elaborate on expertise and pride taken on work currently in progress; and to confirm that this is the place that should be responsible for their critical components. It is a vital process of marketing what is on offer, the crux of creating viable business opportunities to keep the business afloat and going from strength to strength.
The risk of course being one small imperfection that can change that all important first impression in an instant – the level of safety at the workplace.
I cast my mind back to a few months ago when a delegation from abroad arrived at my workplace, eager to establish what we could offer. Obviously, the host did his upmost to keep his group of five wards safely within the designated walkways (where hazards are normally not prone to residing).
“when considering any prospective new PPE, it is always helpful to test the product initially, on a select few”
All efforts were made through the induction process to inform the visitors of hazards to which they may be exposed prior to their entry into the workshop, then off they set accompanied by the host. At a point during the walkthrough, one of the 380v CO2 welding machines (which, truth be told, had lived out its salad days) was noted to be standing just shy of the walkway.
The design of the handles attached and used for the pulling and positioning of these mega welding machines are somewhat archaic in nature. Long steel handles composed of a round bar with a cross bar of sorts at the point, in order to achieve a grip during the manoeuvring process.
The original design dictates that these long steel protrusions have a spring-loaded mechanism that ensures that following use, they resume their vertical position on the back of said machine.
Over years of heavy handling, however, these springs lose their ability to hold the handle in place, resulting in them lying almost flat in a horizontal position when not in use.
This was the case on the day of the above mentioned visit and by being unfamiliar with the environment as well as the limitations of an aging CO2 machine, an individual from the delegation failed to notice this hazard and tripped hard over one of these handles.
“cables, uneven surfaces, and poor housekeeping may present challenges in reaching that trip free environment”
The agility of the said visitor was to be admired as, although practically parallel with the ground, he fortuitously did not meet with it face to face. He did, however, feel utterly embarrassed by the confrontation which resulted in him not reporting the incident. Fortunately, it was spotted by an employee on duty at the time who did report the incident creating the opportunity for our host to contact him privately later in the day to ensure he had left the property unscathed.
In addition, it was highlighted as a concern which enabled swift action to be taken.
As the corrective action, all machines were congregated, and a simple measure implemented by welding a small piece of chain to each handle to enable the operator to hook said handle flush against the machine following use.
All’s well that ends well, however, the consequences from this incident may have been dire.
It highlights the problem of being accustomed to one’s environment and no longer recognising potential hazards for what they are. Equally as important to note, that this unsuspecting victim could not have been the first. If near misses are adequately reported by employees many potential accidents and incidents, including those involving trips and falls, can so easily be remedied.
Time to Step It Up…
The average industrial workplace, construction, manufacturing, fabrication and machining may harbour a complex maze of potential tripping hazards. Cables, uneven surfaces, poor housekeeping, to name but a few, may present challenges in reaching that trip-free environment. The good news is that with a mindful approach in the management of these hazards, progression can be made towards an upstanding workplace in terms of trip and slip perils.
Stairways or steps are one of the most common areas of significance in terms of trips and falls.
They may result in injuries that are severe and long lasting. Injuries that can be sustained may include:
- Broken bones
- Sprains and strains
- Traumatic head, neck, or spine injuries
It is relatively easy to remedy potential injuries from this source by ensuring that the obvious is in place, such as handrails, keeping stairs clear and dry, non-slip tread, as well as ensuring that the stairs are constructed of the same height and size. But the human factor involving stairs is one of the most difficult to tackle.
“80% of accidents are caused by unsafe acts, and 20% by unsafe conditions”
The 80/20 principle is in play at its best on stairs. Statistically, 80% of accidents are caused by unsafe acts, and 20% by unsafe conditions.
Unsafe acts on stairs include running up and down, not maintaining 3-point contact, overloading oneself to save another trip, and the firm favourite, inappropriate shoes.
COVID-19 has added to the burden by discouraging employees from touching public areas that are commonly used, such as handrails. Ensuring that adequate quantities of strategically placed sanitiser is available in these areas assists with this challenge.
It is important to create accountability within the workplace when these unsafe acts are flaunted. Nip stair behaviour in the bud from the start by educating and reminding employees of the potential consequences.
Posters and signage assist with this endeavour, as do toolbox talks and awareness notices.
Encouraging employees to share off-the-job stair related incidents and photographs tends to assist in promoting communication amongst the workforce as, after all, we all know someone who has fallen or derived injuries from stairs.
Often underestimated, illumination has a huge impact on the quantity of trip and fall incidents at the workplace. I have heard the statements all too often during an investigation into a trip and fall, “I didn’t see it” or “I missed that.” A few cases are really just that, or that the employee needs his eyes tested, but frequently in workspaces the lighting is in fact inadequate.
This is especially the case when work is conducted inside work pieces, this filters out the overall illumination that the overhead lighting would usually provide. Having additional, portable lighting available for such situations assists greatly in overcoming this problem. Afterall, how can the tripping hazard be avoided or removed if you just don’t see it in the first place.
Another possible consideration is at the beginning of a shift, when feeling fresh and alert it is easy to spot hazards that may not be particularly visible. As a shift progresses and eyes and bodies alike start taking strain, these hazards may well not be so obvious in poor lighting.
Setting up a workstation with adequate illumination from the get-go will eliminate any potential injuries from possible trips and falls later in the day.
In addition to the above, emergency lighting is an important factor. In South Africa, we experience regular power outages due to ‘load shedding’ and a nightshift performed without back up lighting can be a genuine concern. A workshop should be equipped with sufficient battery backup emergency lighting to assist in leaving the workstation when situations such as this arise.
‘Cell-f’ Inflicted Injuries
Although the advent of cellular devices has been a boom for most of humanity, this too brings its fair share of challenges to the workplace in terms of health and safety, particularly when it comes to trips and falls.
At our workplace, we refer to this practice as ‘Walking and Talking’ and it is considered a serious breach in terms of mandatory safety rules.
With a multitude of potential hazards of which to be aware in a large manufacturing workshop, the use of a cell phone whilst attempting to navigate one’s way, is not an acceptable practise.
It has been scientifically proven that a person’s focus is severely impaired whilst operating a cell phone or mobile device. Hence the reason that it was legislated early on, that cell phones may not be used whilst driving a motor vehicle.
In my experience I have witnessed first-hand the risks of being otherwise occupied in a workshop whilst on a cell phone. Despite the obvious, such as not looking where one is going and tripping over obvious obstructions, other unsafe acts have included walking beneath suspended loads, leaning against unstable materials, and the entering of restricted areas due to the nature of the work being performed there at the time.
It is therefore a foregone conclusion that this practice be strictly outlawed, not only in workshops, but anywhere.
We’ve all been there. Running 10 minutes late for an important meeting, time flies when you are having fun as you grab for your laptop and stream out of the office, knocking into innocent coffee-carriers and fellow co-workers who may be obstructing your path.
Rushing and taking shortcuts still reigns supreme as one of the main contributors for falls at the workplace. It is a fact that rushing and running around like a headless chicken can not only result in injury to yourself, but to a colleague too.
Rushing leads to not being able to adequately take the time to be aware of what is happening around you. You are not focused, even if you think you are, and can miss potential trip hazards that may be obvious had you have calmly approached them on your way.
Taking a step back and managing your time efficiently can lead you to arrive at that meeting on time, rather than the chance of not at all.
Ready, Tready, Go!
To summarise, the following measures will assist in creating that trip free workplace to which we as safety professionals all aspire:
- Ensure that the most suitable footwear for the hazards encountered are procured and provided
- Include trip and fall hazards in your employee and visitor induction process
- Encourage the reporting of near misses with regards to trips and potential falls at the workplace then action immediately
- Ensure stair safety conditions are met and post signage to remind personnel of the requirements
- Ban the use of cell phones where appropriate
- Practise and encourage good housekeeping
- Communicate the benefits of time management to assist in creating an environment where last minute rushing around is not a necessity