Falls, trips and slips are one of the biggest causes of workplace injuries throughout every industry from office workers in cubicles to industrial workers operating a furnace. Falls cover a wide range of injuries from drops of several stories to tripping over cords.
A few industries account for the vast majority of nonfatal and fatal injuries. Construction, by far, experiences the majority of fatal fall-related injuries. On the other side of the spectrum, the healthcare industry, retail, and wholesalers account for the vast majority of non-fatal falls.
Fall Injuries in Context
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which compiles data on a variety of labor topics, there were 605 worker deaths in 2009 caused by fall-related accidents. The majority of the fatalities were concentrated in the construction industry. Construction includes new construction, remodels, soil grading and other ancillary support industries.
The BLS also found that 212,760 workers were injured due to fall-related incidents. Construction accounted for the vast majority of serious injuries, however, retail, healthcare and wholesalers accounted for the majority of non-fatal fall injuries. The BLS estimates that fall-related fatalities and injuries cost the country around $70 billion a year due to medical expenses, lost wages and productivity. As a result, the government (and many non-profit groups) expends enormous amounts of time, money, and energy on fall prevention.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is charged with improving worker safety. In pursuit of this goal, OSHA promulgated a series of rules, programs and training seminars all designed to reduce the prevalence of fall injuries and deaths by attacking it from multiple angles.
Non-fatal Trips and Slips
The health services industry covers a wide range of healthcare providers from doctors’ offices and hospitals to nursing homes and outpatient treatment facilities. Of these entities, hospitals account for most fall-related injuries by both staff and patients.
Hospitals are especially dangerous because their staff is in a constant rush which makes them less aware of their surroundings. Heavy equipment, like gurneys, I.V.s, and EKGs, are continually shuffled between rooms and hallways. Each of these pieces of equipment come with their own set of legs, wheels, and cords which could all trip up unsuspecting patients and caregivers. Retailers and wholesalers are plagued by the same problems that cause their falls. Their workers are constantly on their feet for long shifts, often more than eight hours. These workers must constantly navigate the floor and warehouse shuffling products around. Like hospitals, this leaves plenty of opportunities for dropped hazards in walkways which, when combined with worker exhaustion, magnifies the risk of trips and slips.
The majority of OSHA’s focus is dedicated to preventing fatalities – not on addressing non-fatal injuries.
OSHA nominally enforces safety rules that require employers to train employees on fall prevention techniques and to take reasonable efforts to reduce fall hazards in walkways. However, the practical effect is that OSHA is overwhelmed by the sheer number of companies that fall under these rules.
OSHA is a government agency with limited resources and a vast mission, they are expected to ensure the safety of 131 million workers, it does not have the time or resources to ensure that everyone is in compliance. Therefore, employers and employees are encouraged to do their best to stay in compliance without oversight. Workers can report, anonymously, safety violations to spur a site inspection or investigation but this is typically a last resort.
What causes slips, trips, and falls?
Generically, most slips are caused by clutter, slippery floors, loose cords, popped-up carpets, and tight walkways. Anyone can spot these hazards and correct them on their own. In fact, most corporate training videos include lessons addressing these issues in workplace safety.
The primary causes largely depend on the industry in which you work. In construction, the common causes are holes in the floors and walls, unstable walkways and floors, improperly placed or anchored ladders, incorrect personal arresting systems, and unprotected edges. These are all typical in new construction and remodels. OSHA provides several manuals and training seminars to educate workers and their employers on best safety practices.
Hospitals are dangerous places to walk in. The staff is always mopping up a spilled liquid in an emergency room, hallway or patient room. Nurses are dashing to and fro holding trays filled with instruments and medications. Cords are dragged across rooms and hallways and medical teams struggle to maneuver life-saving equipment into position to assist patients. All of these situations combine to make hospitals magnets for fall-related injuries.
In fact, there is an entire subset of insurance and workplace safety training that is devoted to reducing falls in hospitals. It is an ongoing concern to address patient safety and health.