Distractions, spills, inclement weather among common culprits
On Jan. 20, 2016, a worker in the Northwest Territories exited a pickup truck with his hands full, and slipped and fell on the snowy, icy ground, breaking his wrist and arm. In 2018, Casino Rama in Orillia, Ont. was fined $50,000 after a worker slipped and fell on the ice in the employee parking lot. In B.C., a silviculture worker was fatally injured when she lost her footing while attempting to cross a frozen creek and fell over an icy rock bluff.
Employers across the country are grappling with slips, trips and falls in the workplace — and the consequences can be very serious.
“They are a major problem and, in fact, there are some statistics that show that slips, trips and falls are a leading reason for workers being injured and missing work right across the country,” said Jim Swiss, managing director at Alliance Borealis Canada in Calgary. “It spans industries as well.”
In Saskatchewan, slips, trips and falls are the third highest cause of injury and account for 23 per cent of time-loss claims, according to data from the Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) for 2017-18. According to WCB Alberta data, falls on the same level were responsible for 13.9 per cent of lost-time claims in 2015. In Nova Scotia, slips, trips and falls were the second most common injury event in 2017, accounting for 17.1 per cent of all time-loss claims.
Fortunately, there are many ways that slips, trips and falls can be reduced in the workplace.
1. Have a plan for inclement weather
Canada is blessed with four seasons, but with that comes variable weather. Snow, rain and ice can all wreak havoc on maintaining strong footing and preventing slips and falls. Employers need to be particularly diligent during the transition periods between seasons because workers are not yet used to the changes in weather. In the wintertime, employers need policies around when shoveling will occur, who does it, followup procedures and proper documentation, said Ray Gaetz, chief operations officer at the Alberta Association for Safety Partnerships.
Annette Goski, interim director of the Saskatchewan WCB, recommends workers take a bit of extra time to account for poor weather. They should watch out for icy patches, plan ahead, make sure they have good balance and pay special attention to where they are walking. It’s also important to clear ice off of shoes and work boots once indoors to prevent slipping hazards inside the workplace, she adds.
2. Swiftly clean up spills
The products that can spill at a workplace vary widely from industry to industry, but even if it’s just a leaky faucet, spills are a fact of life on every work site. If a spill does occur, it needs to be contained or blocked off with pylons and reported to the appropriate person. If it is a serious contaminant, then spill control procedures need to be followed. It’s very important that proper procedures are followed based on what product is spilled.
“In a grocery store, if someone spills a jar of tomato sauce versus breaking a two litre thing of Tide soap, you’re not going to apply water to the Tide soap otherwise you’re going to have a hell of a mess and make the situation worse,” said Gaetz. “You have to know how to clean up different spills.”
3. Fix worn-out flooring and mats
While the right mats can be excellent at preventing slips, trips and falls, the wrong ones or those that are worn out, bunched up or at their capacity, can be a risk.
“If there is a huge snowstorm or rain storm when it’s melting in springtime, sometime the mats get soaked and drenched, then walking on them is a hazard because as soon as you hit the linoleum floor, depending on what type of footwear you are wearing, you can go for a ride,” Gaetz said.
Worn out flooring itself can also pose a risk and workers need to contact their supervisor or the maintenance department if any areas are frayed, damaged or torn, Swiss said.
“It sounds like a mundane concern but in reality, it is something that causes a lot of problems,” he explained.
4. Wear appropriate footwear
If workers do not have the appropriate footwear for their environment and tasks, they can be at risk.
Slip-resistant work shoes and boots are readily available in a wide range of options. Employers need to ensure they know what boots are compatible with the materials on their sites and direct workers to selecting those, said Swiss. Ice cleats that simply go over a work boot may be particularly useful for work in icy conditions.
“It’s all about the right PPE for the job,” said Goski.
5. Adopt good housekeeping habits
A cluttered workplace can lead to slips, trips and falls. Good housekeeping practices can significantly reduce this risk and need to be reinforced on the job.
“If you have debris laying around, there are tripping hazards. You want to look for cords that are strung across a walking path. Equipment if it’s not in use, put it away, don’t leave things lying around,” Goski said. “You want to look for projecting parts out of equipment you want to keep your pathways clear.”
According to Goski, good housekeeping can eliminate 10 per cent of injuries.
Management needs to lead by example so workers truly know the importance of cleaning up the work space, explains Gaetz.
“If the workers see the managers walking around, picking up stuff then they know it’s not just the maintenance guy’s job to look out for that kind of stuff,” he said. “Managers have to instil that in people in their training, orientation and then they need to follow up on a constant basis — you don’t just walk by that kind of stuff.”
6. Pay attention on the stairs
There are many ways that stairs can lead to falls. Individuals may not be maintaining three points of contact while walking up or down the stairs and they might be carrying too large a load. Workers should take only one stair at a time, walk — not run — on the stairs, and keep their attention on the stairs while going up or down, says Goski.
The stairs themselves might be in poor condition with cracks, missing pieces or uneven areas and in need of repair. The railing might be missing or in need of repair as well. If something is going to take a while to get fixed, a sign should be posted so workers know to be extra cautious, said Goski. Even dirt or dust on the stairs can lead to falls, so they need to be cleaned regularly.
Sometimes stairwells are used as storage areas, so boxes can be trip hazards. The stairwell also needs to be properly lit.
7. Do not carry too much at once
Workers tend to try and carry more than they can handle. If it is a large load, mechanical lifting equipment should be used. If it is a load that can be done by hand, workers need to ensure that their vision is not obstructed by a pile that is too high and that the load is not overly heavy, said Goski.
Improper lifting techniques can also lead to slips, trips and falls, so workers need to properly bend and lift their loads.
“It seems so simple. You watch a two-year-old and they will go to lift something, and they will squat, they pick it up and they lift with their legs. It’s actually innate in us but as we get older we take shortcuts,” Gaetz said.
8. Ensure good lighting
Lighting should be bright enough on walkways and pathways in order for workers to clearly see what is ahead of them. Employers should be on the lookout for bulbs that are burnt out, especially in stairwells and parking lots.
“In the wintertime, days are shorter, so the parking lot should be lit up, so they can see what kind of conditions they are getting into,” said Goski.
A schedule should be prepared for maintaining lighting fixtures, recommends Swiss.
9. Avoid distractions
Distractions of various sorts, including texting, thinking about a fight with your spouse or listening in on conversations around you can lead to a lack of focus and, subsequently, slips, trips or falls.
“Distractions can definitely happen… People just can’t seem to multitask that well,” said Gaetz.
If workers are over-tired or fatigued, they can also be more likely to be injured. Employers should have a wellness program that promotes good sleep hygiene.
“People when they are fatigued, that’s when they get easily distracted,” Gaetz adds.
10. Promote ‘Safety first’
If the corporate culture is one where workers are always rushing to get the job done, this can lead to an increase of slips, trips and falls. The organization has to encourage works to slow down and take their time to be safe, said Goski. Safety cannot take a backseat to productivity, said Gaetz, adding that as incidents go down, productivity will actually go up.
Ultimately, the culture needs to be one where the senior management team believes that slips, trips and falls are a high priority and requires workers to address these hazards, said Swiss.
“If you have management that doesn’t understand the emphasis on this area and doesn’t really support the need to manage slips, trips and falls then the hazards will remain on the site and contribute to an incident or injury later on.”