Where would employees rank same-level slips, trips, and falls as a hazard in your workplace?
When asked to identify the top hazards in their workplaces, employees generally cite a combination of the following:
- Hazardous chemicals
- High voltage electricity
- Ignition sources
- Heavy machinery
- Infectious agents
- Other similar hazards
While these are all critical hazards, this list isn’t complete. Despite being one of the most frequent causes of workers’ compensation claims, same-level slips, trips, and falls are rarely cited as a top hazard in their workplaces. Why?
The term “slips, trips, and falls” covers a broad and misunderstood hazard class.
Many people associate slip, trip, and fall hazards with roofing, line work, high-rise construction, and other industries with dedicated fall protection programs. The fact that fall protection program deficiencies represent the top violation cited by OSHA each year only strengthens this association. While industries with fall protection program requirements certainly assume the highest risk and consequence related to slips, trips, and falls, the risk of same-level injuries is present in all workplaces.
It’s easy to understand how employees in workplaces without OSHA-mandated fall protection programs could perceive themselves as being at low risk for a slip, trip, or fall injury, but the statistics tell a different story. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, same-level slip, trip, and fall injuries account for approximately:
- Two-thirds of all fall-related incidents
- 10-15% of all lost-time injuries and workers’ compensation claims annually
Of these injuries, about 75% occur in the services, retail, and manufacturing industries.
What Can You Do to Reduce Injuries?
Identify and Correct Common Causes of Same-Level Slip, Trip, and Fall Injuries
- Curled or Bunched Floor Mats – Slip-resistant floor mats maintain safe walking surfaces in areas prone to getting wet. However, floor mats contribute to the problem if they are poorly maintained or become damaged. Inspect rugs and floor mats routinely to ensure that they are clean, lie flat, and don’t slide.
- General Housekeeping – Boxes, equipment, chairs, carts, and other items in aisleways are common tripping hazards. This risk becomes elevated if employees are carrying objects that block the view in front of them. Make sure to keep all traffic areas clear of obstructions and tripping hazards.
- Leaks, Spills, and Condensation – Wet floors represent a significant slip hazard, and many floor surfaces look the same wet or dry. If you have floors that “hide” clear liquids and oils, it’s important for employees to remain vigilant. This is especially true around sinks, fridges/freezers, ice machines, tanks, water baths, etc. Use appropriate signage when spills are discovered or when cleaning operations are in progress.
- Cords and Cables – Secure all pseudo-permanent cords and cables (think A/V equipment in a conference room) to the floor with high visibility tape or specialty cord covers. It’s also important to communicate and control temporary extension cord use. Unattended cords in traffic areas represents a leading trip hazard.
- Uneven Walking Surfaces – Any change in elevation should be highly visible using bright colors (generally yellow or red) and appropriate signage. This includes single steps or similar transitions, ramps, berms, troughs, etc. If any walking surfaces become damaged, immediately restrict access and schedule a repair.
- Weather – If you work in a region with snow and ice, you likely have policies in place for managing parking lots, external walkways, and facility entrances, but keep in mind that rain can also be a significant contributor to slippery surfaces. This risk increases in oil or lubricant use areas, as water can spread them around.
Emphasize the risk in your training program.
Many industries fail to adequately communicate the risk of same-level slips, trips, and falls during training. Training programs tend to defer to regulations when generating content, which often results in a lack of emphasis on common injury sources like same-level slips, trips, and falls and ergonomics. These hazards may not come with the same level of regulatory oversight as those listed in the intro, but strong safety programs effectively highlight them in their Hazard Communication training materials.
Make sure shoe requirements are appropriate and communicated.
Evaluating appropriate workplace attire is a critical component of a strong safety program. While closed-toed and steel-toed shoe requirements are better known, slip-resistant footwear policies are also important to consider. Slip-resistant footwear comes in many different varieties, so it’s likely that a product exists to meet your needs.
Encourage incident and near miss reporting.
It’s critical that everyone takes ownership of safety to collectively serve as the “eyes and ears” in the workplace. Slip, trip, and fall hazards come in many varieties, so stressing awareness and communication is a more practical approach than trying to cover every possible scenario in a training session.
To maximize feedback, it’s important that your reporting system is quick, reliable, and user-friendly. This is particularly true for near miss/close call and hazard identification reporting processes. Employees shouldn’t need to go out of their way or complete a lengthy process to report an issue. The easier you make the notification process, the more success your program will have identifying and correcting safety issues.