My immediate family – and therefore, I – have always had inappropriate responses to slips, trips, and falls. We’re awful. We have several family stories that gleefully start with, “Remember that time (fill in family member’s name) fell/tripped/wiped out …” When my parents were newlyweds, one of the stories goes, my mom watched my dad slide down the staircase of their second story apartment on his back. By the time his feet disappeared around the landing and the thumping had subsided (i.e. he had hit the bottom), Mom was sitting at the top of the steps weeping with uncontrollable laughter. (Dad was ok, but he said the incident showed him a dark side of his new wife that he remains wary of to this day.)

Another family favorite is when I had a chair leg break out from under me while we were having lunch. I had leaned forward to pick up my sandwich, when I was violently pitched to the side as the left front leg of my chair sheared off. I remember vaguely wondering what had happened to my sandwich as I hit the floor. Meanwhile, my mother had face planted onto the table, hee-hawing. “Your face!” she croaked. “You should’ve seen your face!” (Are you seeing a pattern here?)

And while slips, trips, and falls are classic comedy fodder, it’s a hazard that’s to be taken very seriously on the job. Slips, trips, and falls are the second leading cause of death next to motor vehicle accidents at the workplace. That’s sobering, isn’t it? With a little forethought and planning, though. most slips, trips, and falls are preventable.

Last week, we examined how to recognize heat exhaustion. In the name of prevention, let’s take a look at how to mitigate slips, trips, and falls by recognizing what can cause them.

  • What causes slips? Remember, a slip occurs when there is too little friction between your feet and the surface your walking/working on. You’re likely to slip when something wet spills onto a smooth walking surface – water, mud, grease, oil, food, blood, offal – or when dry products spill onto a walking surface – dust, powder, granulated material, wood shavings, or plastic wrap. Slips usually happen very quickly and throw you off balance.
  • What about trips? Trips are a little different in that they occur when your lower leg (usually your foot) hits an object and your upper body continues moving. Things like uncovered cables or extension cords across a walkway or miscellaneous clutter left sitting in a hallway or the rolled-up edge or a doormat or carpet can cause someone to trip. Trips also occur when you step down onto a lower surface, especially when you’re not prepared for a change in elevation. Like when you step forward expecting your foot to land on the same plane that you’ve been walking on and the sidewalk ends. It’s extremely jarring and  can cause you to lose your balance.
  • Notice that both slips and trips can cause you to lose your balance? What happens when an object or person gets too far off center of balance? The object or person falls, right? We can fall at the same level we’re walking/working on – like falling onto the floor or falling against a wall or a piece of furniture – or we can fall to a lower level – like stepping off the edge of scaffolding or a hole in the floor.

Now that we’re aware of the hazard and we understand what can cause the hazard, let’s look at how to recognize and prevent that hazard. Last week, I covered how to recognize a hazard by asking the question, “What might happen if…?” I used this example:

What might happen if…I don’t notify the shop foreman that the corner of the doormat between the shop and the office needs to be taped down?

What might happen, indeed. Someone might trip over the corner of that doormat and they might fall! Now, take the time to make sure the potential hazard is addressed, thereby preventing the hazard from happening in the first place.

Take a look at these resource materials.

tipsheet-falls-english and tipsheet-falls-spanish from the National Safety Council

tool box talk – slips trips and falls from the Saskatchewan Construction Safety Association

Stay safe out there!