“A construction worker is more likely to be injured in a fall while pushing a wheelbarrow loaded with concrete then when standing on a scaffold drilling into a ceiling,” says LIUNA General President Terry O’Sullivan. “While the construction falls that make headlines tend to be those where height is a factor, the slips and trips that cause most falls usually occur at ground level or on the same level. These falls may not be as dramatic as those from rooftops or scaffolds, but they can still be devastating. And like most falls from heights, most slips, trips and the falls that often follow are preventable.”
According to the 2013 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index, falls caused by slips and trips were second only to motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of workplace injuries in 2013. They also continue to be a top reason for emergency room visits. Common injuries include broken bones and cuts, and strains and sprains to the back, shoulder, elbow, wrist and knee. Traumatic brain injuries are also treated. The National Safety Council estimates that workers’ compensation and medical costs related to slips and trips are approximately $70 billion per year. The Department of Labor estimates these injuries are responsible for more than 95 million work days lost across the country annually.
Falls are the leading cause of injuries and fatalities in the construction industry. In 2012, falls killed 290 construction workers and injured 18,400.
Common causes of slips, trips and same-level falls include:
- Wet or oily surfaces
- Weather hazards (rain, snow, ice)
- Loose, unanchored mats or rugs
- Walking surfaces without the same degree of traction in all areas
- Walking surfaces that are not level (slopes, steps, thresholds)
- Obstructed view
- Poor lighting
- Uncovered cables and wires
“Good housekeeping along with level, slip-resistant walking surfaces and slip-resistant footwear can help protect workers and employers from the fallout that can follow slips, trips and falls,” says O’Sullivan. “These practices are as essential in fall prevention as guardrails, safety nets and personal fall arrest systems.”
Good housekeeping includes:
- Cleaning spills immediately
- Mopping or sweeping debris from walking surfaces
- Removing obstacles and clutter from walkways
- Securing (tacking, taping, etc.) mats, rugs and carpets that do not lay flat
- Covering cables that cross walkways
- Keeping working areas and walkways well lit
- Assigning workers to clean or hiring a cleaning service
- Assigning a worker to check the worksite for fall hazards daily
Walking surfaces that are not level or are made of materials that provide little traction increase the likelihood for slips, trips and falls. Employers can reduce these risks:
- Install mats and/or pressure-sensitive abrasive strips.
- Install metal or synthetic decking.
- Replace flooring or recoat existing flooring with abrasive-filled paint-on coating.
Work boots that have worn treads or are ill-fitting can lead to slips, trips and falls. Reduce your risk:
- Wear work boots that fit snugly and that have slip-resistant soles.
- Clean treads regularly. Employers should have cleaning mats available.
- Regularly inspect soles to be sure they still provide traction.
How you walk can further reduce your risk of slips and trips. Always:
- Take your time and pay attention to where you are walking.
- Use installed light sources or flashlights that provide sufficient light for your tasks.
- Make sure materials or equipment you are carrying or pushing do not prevent you from seeing obstructions or spills.
The LHSFNA can assist in keeping employees safe from falls and your worksite safe in general. The Fund has a number of Health Alerts and other materials pertaining to falls and other worksite hazards that can be ordered through the online Publications Catalogue. View more detailed fall prevention/protection information on the LHSFNA’s dedicated hazards page or call 202-628-5465 to request a site-specific audit from the Occupational Safety and Health Division.
Additional resources about fall prevention/protection are also available on CPWR’s website and OSHA’s website. These recent Lifelines articles also provide information: Get a Leg Up on Ladder Safety and Scaffold Safety: Skimping Is Not an Option.
[Janet Lubman Rathner]