Falls Demand Attention in Every Industry
Slips, trips and falls are some of the most common injuries among workers in the United States and a major contributor to claim costs, affecting virtually every industry.
They caused more than 240,000 nonfatal workplace injuries in 2018 – more than 26% of the total reported injuries across all industries, according to the latest US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) findings.
A recent National Council on Compensation Insurance report showed that slips, trips and falls were among the three leading categories of overall workers’ comp claims over the past 12 years, and, together with overexertion and contact with objects and equipment, drove more than 85% of cases during that period.
According to NYSIF Field Services Rep Indrit Berberi, slip, trip and fall hazards demand attention from workers and employers in every kind of setting. “Even though [slips, trips and falls] are so common, they generally tend to be overlooked, especially outside of the construction and transportation industries,” he said.
Mr. Berberi’s point is well taken. More than 17% of NYSIF claims reported in 2019 involved slips, trips and falls with clerical employees, teachers, hospital and health care workers, restaurant workers and maintenance crews high among the number of claimants.
As one could surmise, there are common preventative measures that apply to all the occupations on that list, as well as to virtually all workplaces. Routine precautions, Mr. Berberi suggests, such as adequate housekeeping; unobstructed work areas; dry, clean floors; and proper footwear go a long way toward reducing slips, trips and falls and keeping workers safe.
The most recent BLS findings show slips, trips and falls were highest in the restaurant industry, where they accounted for more than 31% of injury events. According to a recent webinar offered by the trade publication, Risk & Insurance, the leading cause of slips and falls in restaurants is spills of food, syrups, greases and drinks.
There are other causes, too: mats or rugs that are loose or have become old and tattered, poor visibility in high-traffic areas, and ice buildup or condensation on floors of walk-in freezers are some of the most common. As in other workplaces, walking surface disrepair, including uneven floor heights, clutter and loose cords cause many accidents.
As in any industry, hazards often arise where staff fail to properly flag wet floors or areas where spills have occurred, or when staff fail to wipe them up entirely. Prevention includes marking spills and wet floors clearly and cleaning them immediately. Any slippery surfaces should be handled with the utmost urgency.
One of the best safeguards against slips and falls is ensuring that staff members wear the appropriate shoes. Other preventive steps include removing clutter from high-traffic areas and training staff to pay attention to their surroundings.
Housekeeping is “especially important in the New York area, where surface area tends to be at a premium and everything tends to be a little more cluttered,” Mr. Berberi says. “Proper storage is crucial in giving people an appropriate amount of space to do their work.”
Falls in Construction
Slips, trips and falls also caused more than a quarter of all injuries in construction (28.5%), health care and social assistance (27.4%) and retail (27%), according to BLS. While common prevention methods may be successfully applied in health care and retail operations, falls can be particularly hazardous in construction because they are often serious or fatal.
In May, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) will team with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and the Center for Construction Research and Training to hold its 7th annual National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction.
During the voluntary, five-day event employers and workers are encouraged to pause voluntarily during the workday to participate in safety demonstrations, training in hazard recognition and fall prevention and to discuss hazards, protective methods, company safety policies, goals and expectations. The campaign has produced an abundance of research and educational materials including videos, infographics and fact sheets that can be used during events. Organizers also hosts an annual webinar featuring a panel of safety experts.
Additionally, OSHA offers a four-hour fall-prevention training course for employers in the construction industry. The information contained in the materials ranges from general hazard warnings to specific guidance on scaffolds, ladders, guardrails and aerial lifts.
In New York City, surprise inspections at construction sites have been part of an aggressive effort by the Department of Buildings to address safety infractions after a surge in worker injuries. Some 14,000 violations and/or stop work orders were reportedly issued as of late last year, totaling $15 million in fines, because of dangers such as missing guardrails and inadequate safety supervision.