Fall hazards are still a problem in many industries and workplaces. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, the number of worker deaths from slips, trips, and falls increased 11.3% in 2019 compared with the previous year. OSHA’s general fall protection standard (1926.501), has been a top 10 cited standard for the agency for 11 consecutive fiscal year.
Other standards that relate to fall risk and are routinely included on the list include those relating to ladders (1926.1053) and scaffolding (1926.451) as well as fall protection – training requirements (1926.503).
Bradley Evanoff, an occupational health physician and professor at Washington University in St. Louis, asked, “Most workers know some safety information, but how can we get them to apply those safety practices consistently?” How can employers create a workplace culture that encourages employees to take part in making it safer?
There may be overlaps between factors
Amber Joseph, Liberty Mutual Insurance’s technical consultant, identified many contributing factors to slips, trips, and falls during a webinar by the National Safety Council in December 2019. These are some of them:
People and their activity
Joseph stated that there will be overlap in these areas a lot of the time. It could be a discussion about footwear or a walking surface depending on what type of contaminant you have. It’s about looking at the whole thing and saying, “All right, I have to fix these issues as I go forward.”
OSHA’s general industry standard (1910.22) requires employers to ensure that “all places of employment and passageways, storerooms and service rooms, and walking-working surface areas are kept clean, orderly, and sanitary.”
Also, walking-working surfaces must not be contaminated with sharp or protruding objects, loose board, corrosion, leaks and spills. Hazardous conditions must also be corrected or repaired before employees can use the walking-working surfaces again.
The standard states that employees must not use the walking-working surface until they have corrected or repaired the hazard.
NIOSH recommends that employers choose flooring material based upon the type of work to be done in the area. NIOSH also emphasized the importance of the coefficient of friction, which is a measure of how likely a walkway surface will slip. For high-risk areas, the agency recommends that flooring have a lower static coefficient of friction (CoF) to be safer.
The University of Pittsburgh announced in November that two researchers from the Swanson School of Engineering will use a NIOSH grant for a new model of flooring friction performance. This is to help prevent slips and falls while on the job. A Pitt press release cites Liberty Mutual data that states workplace slips and falls cost workers $10 billion annually in workers’ compensation claims.