Injuries and Illness

To Prevent Slips, Trips, and Falls, Fix Things From the Floor Up

To stop slips, trips and falls, improve the flooring, the footwear, and the habits of workers. In this two-part article, we’ll review what to do about all 3 of these accident factors.

OK, safety professionals, here’s today’s quick quiz:

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers, what kind of workplace accident results in the most nonfatal injuries a year that require a day or more away from work?

You might think it was something involving moving machinery. Well, you’d be half right. It involves moving, all right, but not machinery. The human body provides all the movement needed to do damage in a slip, trip, or fall.

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Slips, trips, and falls account for more than a quarter-million lost-day injuries a year, or more than 17 percent of the total nonfatal injuries in OSHA-regulated categories, according to the BLR training program, Audio Click ’n Train: Slips, Trips, and Falls.

The Three Factors

There are many ways to cut down on this gravity-fed mayhem, and one useful way to look at them is by applying a version of the factors spelled out in traffic accident causation … road conditions, the vehicle, and the driver.

Today, let’s look at the first two, courtesy of several recent articles. The first is by Ken Fisher, an advisor to the National Floor Safety Institute, on the website, The second is by Carol J. Lehtola, William J. Becker, and Charles M. Brown of the University of Florida, writing for the National Ag Safety Database (NASD).

In the case of slip, trip, and fall accidents, the “road” is, of course, the floor your employees walk on. Floors, say these authors, can either help or hinder safety while walking.

The key factor is the coefficient of friction (COF), a measure of a floor’s resistance to having a foot slide across it. The higher the COF, the better, with COFs of 0.5 or higher recommended for most purposes. (Higher COFs are needed for some tasks, says Fisher.)

There’s a caveat to taking that measurement, he adds. The floor must be measured when wet, because COFs drop drastically when moisture is added. “This supports the rationale that if a floor is slip-resistant when wet, it’ll be slip-resistant when dry,” he writes.

What if your floor doesn’t meet the requirements? Numerous solutions are available.

  • Surface modifiers are chemicals that increase the COF by creating tread patterns or micropores in the original surface. They last several years, Fisher notes, and should be applied by professionals.

  • Mop-on treatments both clean the floor and deposit ingredients to increase its slip-resistance. These can be applied by unskilled labor.

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  • Skid-resistant products in strips and rolls are added to the list by the NASD writers. These have an adhesive backing or are applied with glue, and can be cut to fit on stair treads, ramps, or other smaller spaces.

  • Hard rubber mats also are useful in reducing the hazards of wet floors.

    The NASD authors also note the importance of keeping flooring both level and free of cracks or other imperfections. “As little as a 3/8-inch rise in a walkway can cause a person to ‘stub’ his toe resulting in a trip and fall,” they write, as can a slight variation in stair riser height. And many experts have noted the importance of proper lighting. Especially when employees come from a brighter area, such as outdoors in daylight, the eyes take time to adjust to lower light levels, making transition zones such as entryways especially hazardous.

    However you improve your flooring, Fisher adds, periodically test the COF to make sure it’s still up to standard, and keep records of the results. Attorneys might add that such recordkeeping can be crucial in your defense if an incident does occur.

    The “vehicle” in slip, trip, and fall accidents is footwear.

    “On icy, wet, and oily surfaces, the COF can be as low as 0.10 with shoes that are not slip-resistant,” says the NASD team. “Obviously, high heels, with minimal heel to surface contact, taps on heels, and shoes with leather or other hard soles lead to injuries. Shoes with rubber-cleated, soft soles and heels provide a high COF.”

    If floors are slip- and trip-resistant, and shoes help out, that leaves one of the three causative factors yet to work with … the “driver,” or in this case, the walker. We’ll get to him or her, hopefully before they slip, trip, or fall and hurt themselves, in tomorrow’s Advisor.

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