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Slips, Trips & Falls in the Workplace: Causes and Prevention

This past May, the United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) held a National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction. The Safety Stand-Down took place throughout the week of May 7th through the 11th, and was designed to spread awareness of fall hazards and fall prevention at construction sites across the country. Construction companies of all sizes (including independent contractors) participated in this event by holding “toolbox talks” and special safety activities/workshops with employees and fellow construction workers throughout the week; at the end of the week, these participants received a Certificate of Participation celebrating their efforts to cut down on fall hazards on-the-job—which have become a growing source of concern in the construction industry and beyond.

Falls in the Workplace: A Disturbingly Common Occurrence

Across the United States, workplace falls have accounted for about 14% of all workplace fatalities in the past 11 years. This also makes workplace falls the second-leading cause of deaths in the workplace, and this rings especially true among workers in the construction industry. Studies have shown that both same-level falls and falls to a lower level can be deadly, and that fall rates tend to be higher among older workers, Hispanic workers, and male workers. Organizations/companies with 10 or fewer employees also seem to be at a higher risk of fatalities related to workplace falls than larger companies.

These statistics only prove that a greater effort needs to be made to protect workers from falls by providing the right safety education and training between independent contractors, union workers, safety professionals, and all others involved.

Workplace Fall Hazards (And How to Prevent Them)

There are numerous potential fall hazards throughout the “typical” construction jobsite. Specifically, OSHA defines a fall hazard as “anything at your worksite that could cause you to lose your balance or lose bodily support and result in a fall. Any walking or working surface can be a potential fall hazard.”

In the construction industry, there are generally three major types of fall hazards. These include:

  • unprotected edges (such as roof edges and floor openings)
  • improper construction of scaffolding
  • unsafe portable ladders

These types of hazards run a high risk of resulting in a major fall to a lower level, often with falls of 10 feet or greater. Such accidents can result in serious injury or even death. The best way to reduce the risk of these types of fall hazards is to make sure all workers are properly trained on how to safely work in these conditions. For instance, while it is generally not possible to avoid unprotected edges at a construction site, workers should be trained to use the proper fall protection equipment (including guardrails and fall arrest systems) while working in these areas to avoid a lower-level fall.

What Workers Can Do to Protect Themselves

While employers should be providing fall protection training and equipment, it’s important to note that workers also have an individual responsibility to protect themselves on the job and use common-sense caution to avoid falls and injuries. Specifically, construction workers should keep the S.A.F.E. acronym in mind at all times while working on-site, regardless of whether they’re indoors or outdoors.

What does S.A.F.E. stand for?

Surface

This refers to the surface on which a worker is standing. Being aware of not just the makeup of the surface, but its changing characteristics, can help workers make sound decisions about their safety on the job. For example, if a normally dry surface has become slick or slippery due to rain or even due to a spill, workers should know the proper procedures for staying safe. This may include blocking off the area of the spill until it can be cleaned up or walking and working slowly around the surface to avoid slipping in the meantime.

Awareness

Many workers suffer from slips and falls due a simple lack of awareness on the job. Often times, this stems from trying to multi-task at work. For example, a construction worker may be using his or her smartphone while walking and thus fail to see a fall hazard until it’s too late. Construction workers should always remain alert, aware, and distraction-free while on the job.

Footwear

Donning the correct footwear is a must when it comes to fall avoidance, especially on construction sites. Workers should make sure the type of shoe they’re wearing to work is compatible with the types of surfaces on which they’re working. Furthermore, footwear should be upgraded and replaced as needed when the soles become worn or traction becomes lost.

Environment

Changing weather conditions and other special circumstances, such as nearby road traffic, can increase the risk of construction site falls and related injuries. Workers should be aware of their environments at all times and, whenever possible, designate specific areas and walkways to keep clear of obstructions.

How Employers Can Cut Down on Workplace Falls

Employers in the construction industry should be aware of the impact even a single workplace fall accident can have not just on their safety record and worker morale, but on the company’s bottom line as well. It’s no secret that workplace injuries can be costly, but construction site falls are easily among the most expensive types of injury out there. In fact, it is estimated that this source of injury results in more than 95 million lost work days among employers each year.

Fortunately, there are steps all employers can take to better educate workers and reduce fall risks on the job site.

Consider, for starters, participating in an event such as OSHA’s National Safety Stand-Down; by scheduling fall-related safety training with employees during this time, you can provide a “refresher” course to workers and also receive your Certificate of Participation for the event. This is a great time to hold fall training workshops and have safety managers available to answer questions workers may have about on-the-job safety. This type of training also provides a great opportunity for members of management and supervision to sit down and speak candidly to construction workers about the importance of following safety protocol, particularly as it relates to fall safety.

Employers also have the responsibility to keep the lines of communication open both ways between safety managers and construction workers. If fall safety training isn’t being followed in the workplace, workers should feel confident in their ability to report safety violations to supervisors and other higher-ups with the knowledge that they will be taken seriously.

Finally, employers can reduce the risk of slips and falls in the workplace by:

  • making sure all ladders are in safe condition
  • avoiding trip hazards, such as cables and electrical cords
  • ensuring that gang planks and ramps are skid-resistant
  • checking to make sure worker footwear is adequate on job sites

Unfortunately, slips and falls are still a very real problem in the workplace—particularly within the construction industry. The good news is that both workers and employers can take some simple yet effective steps to substantially reduce these risks and create safer job sites. For more information on improving your organization’s safety training, reach out to IMPROV®Learning today!

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