Again and again we hear about the dangers of slips, trips, and falls and the heavy cost associated with the resulting injuries. A few recent statistics hammer home the reality of the concern:
1. Slips and falls account for 12 percent of all work related deaths.
2. Fatal injuries in slips and falls rank second behind motor vehicle deaths in the workplace.
3. Slips and falls cause more than 300,000 disabling injuries and deaths annually.
4. Costs in compensation (wages and medical) as a result of slipping accidents average $6,717 per occurrence (more than 41 percent above the average of all other accidents).
5. Work-related accidents in the United States cost $34.8 billion annually.1
And you may not think so, but laboratory facilities are prime candidates for slips and falls. The constantly wet surfaces, frequent spills and splashes, constant washing of glassware, etc., all combine to make laboratories some of the places most vulnerable to slips, trips, and falls. So in this issue, the Safety Guys offer a few tips on preventing these types of accidents
Look at the big picture
There are many reasons for slips and falls, but they have one thing in common—they usually could and should have been prevented. Accidents do happen; however, by using a commonsense approach and following some simple key steps we can avoid the major causes of slips and falls. As in other safety programs, employee participation and vigilance are key to success. This is especially important with trips, slips, and falls, as the hazards are dynamic (i.e., constantly changing), so it is imperative that employees observe and take preventive action during their day-to-day activities.
The first thing to do is to take the time to survey your facility and try to identify potential problem areas. Once these trouble zones are spotted, you then can evaluate fixes or different control measures. Finally, implement the corrections and controls. After addressing the trouble areas, it is a simple matter to perform a facility inspection at regular intervals, maintaining, repairing, and replacing controls as needed.
We know from experience that rough, dry concrete sidewalks have good traction and that icy, wet, or smooth surfaces often do not. The technical term for this is coefficient of friction (COF). The higher the COF, the more traction that surface offers. Field measurement of COF is difficult and often inaccurate. The COFs mentioned are from lab data on dry surfaces. For most walking and working surfaces, we should aim for a COF of 0.40 or greater for the best traction. As a reference, a dry, rough concrete sidewalk may have a COF of 1.0 or more, while a wet, smooth surface such as ceramic tile or ice can have a COF of as low as 0.10. Let us keep that in mind as we begin our survey.
Take a walk on the outside
Start by taking a tour outside, walking around the perimeter of your research facility. Make a list of the usual suspects when it comes to areas where trips and falls occur most frequently. These include entrances, sidewalks, steps, and ramps. Take note of the different surfaces and whether they have good traction. We suggest trying the “scuff test” of sliding or kicking your foot along the surface in both dry and wet conditions. If the surface seems slippery, then it is a good candidate for nonskid epoxy coatings or nonslip treads. Areas that are very frequently used in locales with wet weather should also be considered for permanent coverings to reduce slipping.
Are the usual suspects likely to get wet at times other than in inclement weather? For example, does the irrigation system or do sprinklers hit these potential trouble spots? If so, have them corrected immediately. Does their proximity to water, such as from roof drains or storm water systems, lead to regular wetting? Then nonskid coatings with a very high COF are a must.
Do not overlook shipping and receiving areas or loading docks. These high-traffic areas are often exposed and must have excellent traction due to the added hazards of moving loads in and out. Also, make sure all steps, ramps, and elevated docks have appropriate guardrails.
Another hazard to look for is uneven surfaces. Very small changes in elevation can lead to a trip from a “stubbed” toe, resulting in a fall. In fact, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires differences in elevation to be a quarter-inch or less.2 The best fix is to fill in or grind down the adjacent areas to smooth them out. If that is not practical, consider yellow safety markings to draw attention to the change in levels.
Since most research facilities do not adhere to a strict 8-to-5 workday and activities can take place before and after daylight hours, make sure you visit your trouble spots in the dark in order to evaluate the lighting. It is very helpful and recommended that a good-quality light meter be used for this survey, and that the results be compared to the national consensus standards.
Continuing our inspection indoors, we encounter a variety of uses, each with different requirements. Typically we have offices; break rooms, canteens, and perhaps cafeterias; receiving and storage areas; workshops; and, of course, laboratories. The floor surfaces and the hazards vary with the intended use of each space.
Housekeeping issues are the number one reason for trips and falls indoors. Therefore, avoiding clutter and keeping floors and walkways clear are important for all areas. Check for stray or inappropriate cords, such as extension cords and computer or phone cables, and reroute them properly if they are present. Ensure that mats lie flat, and secure them if they tend to move. Repair any bulges in the carpets, and take extra care where floor surfaces change— for example, where carpet meets tile or other flooring—to keep them smooth and trip-free.
Receiving and storage areas and workshops present special challenges and need a nonslip floor with a high COF. It is a good idea to designate paths and walkways with on-floor markings to aid in keeping these areas clear.
Any specific washing areas or tank rooms need special attention. It is highly recommended that walking and working surfaces in these areas have nonskid coatings, due to their frequently wet conditions. Use anti-fatigue mats wherever employees must stand for long periods. Make sure employees know to clean up any spills immediately. In addition, expanding your lighting survey to indoor areas is another recommended prevention task.
Taking a few hours to inspect your research facility will go a long way in preventing slips, trips, and falls. Most fixes and corrections are low-cost and easily installed and maintained. Given the costs associated with the alternatives, it is hard to argue against a good slip, trip, and fall prevention program.