Preventing Slips, Trips & Falls in the Workplace

Everyone has fallen, slipped on something wet or icy, or tripped over something (including our own two feet). It happens. But when it happens in the workplace, there is a whole new set of issues raised for the employer.


A slip, trip or fall (STF) can result in disability or, in extreme conditions, death. As in the case of any worker injury, for you—the employer—it can also mean lost productivity, lost profits, increased insurance premiums, and costs associated with hiring and training a new worker, if necessary.


For your worker who experiences a STF, it could mean lost wages, out-of-pocket expenses, pain and depression, temporary or permanent disability (or death), or a reduced quality of life. And, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, STFs make up 15% of all accidental deaths, which is the second leading cause of accidental death, behind motor vehicle accidents. Nearly 20% of disabling occupational injuries are the result of falls, most of which could have been prevented.


What is defined as a slip, trip or fall in the workplace?


Slip: Occurs when there is not enough traction (or too little friction) between footwear and the walking or working surface, which results in a loss of balance.


Trip: A trip can happen when a person loses balance when stepping down to a lower surface. It could also be when the foot or lower part of the leg comes into contact with an object and the upper body loses balance.


Fall: There are two types of falls. People could fall from a higher level or work surface to a lower one; these types of falls tend to lead to severe results that could include death. Or, they could fall on the same level, which would include falling into or against objects at the same surface.


What causes STFs in the workplace?

Below are the primary causes (though certainly not all causes) of STFs in the workplace:


  • Slippery surfaces caused by wetness or ice on smooth floors or walking surfaces (could include water, mud, oil, food, etc.)
  • Dry spills or materials on floors or walking surfaces (could include dust, powder, wood, plastic wrap, leaves, pine needles or other outdoor debris)
  • Polished, waxed, or multi-surface floors (for example, transitions from carpet to vinyl or grid to smooth concrete)
  • Sloped surfaces, ramps, or gangplanks without slip-resistant surfaces
  • Uneven surfaces, like cracks in concrete, potholes, rippled carpet, unnecessarily tall thresholds
  • Loose rugs, mats, floorboards, tiles, or irregular surfaces like gravel or sand; damaged steps or steps without proper signage
  • Mounting or dismounting from vehicles or equipment
  • Ladders
  • Uncovered hoses, cables, wires, or extension cords across walkways
  • Clutter or obstacles
  • Cabinets, file drawers, desks, doors left open
  • Poor lighting, glare, or shadows; fog or mist; missing signage
  • Human conditions that include failing eyesight, age, physical condition, fatigue, stress, illness, or reactions from medications, carrying too heavy a weight or too many items, distraction, shortcuts, hurrying
  • Improper footwear for the job. High heels, sandals, treads that are not slip-resistant, and other footwear that is not designed for the work environment
  • Upper-level walking and working surfaces that are not protected by proper rail systems


Preventing STFs

Fortunately, there’s a lot that you can do to prevent STFs in the workplace. Let’s look at a few:


Design the workplace, workflow and process to prevent splatter, spillage, oils, dust, and other discharge onto the floor. This would include exhaust ventilation (so that there isn’t condensation on the floor from smoke, steam or water), catch/drip pans, drain-offs and other protective measures.It’s also important to provide adequate lighting of all work areas and paths of travel. Highlighting step edges and floor transitions, maintaining handrails, ensuring proper and effective drainage, and slip-resistant floors are all parts of workplace design that would minimize exposure.


Cleanliness is crucial. Anywhere that you have personnel or the public must be clean, orderly and sanitary. That includes restrooms, break rooms, and all workspaces. If your business includes wet processes, there should be platforms, mats, or other dry standing locations.Aisles and passages should be clear and free of obstruction or hazard. If there are permanent aisles, they must be marked clearly.


Follow safe walking practices. It might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s important that part of your employee training includes guidance on not walking while distracted, being mindful of walking while looking at a smartphone or other handheld device, and knowing (and using) correct routes that are designed for safe passage.


Wearing correct footwear. Proper footwear means shoes with good traction that will be appropriate for the types of surfaces that will be walked on. For example, shoes worn in the kitchen of a restaurant might not be the same as those that should be worn in a warehouse. Let your employees know what the expectation is based on your space and anticipated hazards.


Protect workers from falls from heights. Do not allow access to any surface 48” or above without proper railings or some other accepted means of fall protection.


Three reminders to prevent STFs


While each of the points above is important for preventing slips, trips and falls in the workplace, they can be distilled to three broader points:


1. Investigation: If a fall does occur, it’s crucial that a thorough investigation takes place so that you can determine both the cause and what action can be taken to prevent it from happening again.


2. Education: Always include fall prevention education in your employee training, along with reviewing potential fall exposure in your specific workplace.


3. Inspection: Good housekeeping is essential. Performing periodic reviews of general workplace housekeeping can go a long way toward prevention. Identifying hazards, either new or regenerated, is essential for safety. Your safety committee or designated individuals can perform this task, document findings, and make recommendations for actions that can be taken to reduce risk. When inspecting for hazards, be sure to that all controls remain uncompromised.


Never assume that employees are 100% aware of the hazards. Some accidents happen simply because we are human. Everyone gets lost in his thoughts once in a while and perhaps forgets to look where he’s going or loses footing. If you are able to keep your workplace as free from hazards as possible, and train employees correctly (with frequent reminders) about how to interact with their surroundings, you can reduce the likelihood of a slip, trip or fall injury.


Link to stair safety article

Link to ladder safety article

Link to training article