Slip/Falls—Individually A Pain, Collectively A Disaster

Approximately 25,000 American workers suffer a disabling slip/fall injury every day, 365 days a year. Slip/falls account for 35% of all OSHA injuries and more than 65% of all lost workdays with an average lost time of 38 days. Hazards include parking lots, sidewalks, stairs, halls, restrooms, locker rooms, pool decks, docks, etc.

The science of slip/falls deals with coefficient of friction (COF), with surfaces classified as slippery (e.g., polished stone or ceramic tile and painted or slick-finished concrete), moderately slippery (e.g., vinyl, wood, ceramic tile, and stone), or non-slip (e.g., textured rubber, rough-troweled concrete, and expanded-steel grating).

Often forgotten is that COF is a ratio between two surfaces, specifically floor and footwear. If either surface is slippery, a fall will frequently result. The same classification applies to footwear: slippery (e.g., leather soles, some synthetic soles, athletic or work shoes with cleats or spikes, and stocking-feet), moderately slippery (most footwear including many athletic shoes, especially when the soles are worn), and non-slip (crepe soles, deck shoes, aqua-sox, etc.). Best results occur when both surfaces are non-slip.

Although the exposure is great and the potential loss is significant, there are many things that can be done to reduce both. A little extra attention to cleaning up the spill, picking up the object or placing a warning sign will go a long way in preventing most falls. Consider these:

  • Utilize non-slip surfaces when feasible; if a lesser surface must be used, apply a non-slip treatment; a dry COF below 0.5 is unsafe and always should be addressed; higher is always better
  • Keep surfaces dry; moisture degrades most surfaces by a category, making a moderately slippery floor a slippery one. Address each of the following:
    • Entries—mop often during inclement weather; use pick-up mats to capture tracked-in water; set warning cones to alert of possible wetness
    • Perpetual wet-floor areas—install drains, use non-slip treatments, or utilize elevating mats (but realize that they may create other problems)
    • Leaks and spills—mark the site with warning cones and/or wet-floor signs immediately and clean it up promptly; make necessary repairs and establish appropriate preventative maintenance protocols to prevent reoccurrence
  • Clean continuously (at least daily): Remove all clutter, especially from hallways, walking spaces and stairways; prohibit storage of items that might lead to tripping hazards
  • Provide adequate lighting: All walking spaces (halls, stairs, areas between furniture or equipment, etc.) should be well illuminated—bright enough to identify potential obstacles, free of shadows, and so forth
  • Address elevation changes:
    • Indoors, any change in floor elevation between ¼” and 1” should be beveled or chamfered instead of presenting a blunt 90o rise
    • Indoors or outdoors, any elevation change of 1” or more should be marked and/or illuminated
  • Maintain outdoor surfaces:
    • Fix all cracks, pot holes, and other surface irregularities in sidewalks and parking lots that may create trip hazards
    • Keep walkways clear of ice and snow; shovel or scrape as frequently as necessary—keeping these access ways clear should be a primary consideration; use sand or salt if necessary
  • Maintain all steps and stairs
    • Stairway pitch should be between 30o and 35o
    • Risers on any given set of stairs or steps should be of the same height
    • Treads should be level, not pitched forward; the surface should be solid and secure, without torn carpet, missing anti-slip coverings, and the like.
    • Handrails should be secure; if there are three or more steps a handrail should be provided on both sides (with minor exceptions)
  • Footwear: All employees should wear appropriate closed-toe footwear at all times (except possibly in specific aquatic or similar settings); encourage non-slip choices especially where the floors are wet or have a slippery surface

Surprisingly, many such incidents occur because of multi-tasking—doing other things while walking. Like driving, walking requires paying attention to prevent accidents. Consistent vigilance regarding the above items will create a safer environment and minimize the risk.