Preventing Slips, Trips, and Falls in the Workplace

This article discusses what you need to know about slips, trips, and falls: definition, causes, existing regulations, and ways to prevent them.

slips trips and falls

Published 28 Apr 2022

What are Slips, Trips, and Falls?

Slips, trips, and falls are among the most common hazards in the workplace. They put many workers at risk of sprains, strains, cuts, bruises, fractures, and other injuries. At worst, they can also lead to death, especially in high-risk occupations such as construction. But with adequate training and safety practices, companies can keep their personnel safe from these hazards.

Slips

Slips occur when there is little to no traction between the footwear and the walking surface. Since the friction is too small to hold the feet on the ground, a person can lose their balance. For example, if a supermarket staff member runs on a wet produce aisle, they will most likely slip on the floor.

Trips

On the other hand, tripping happens when a person’s foot hits an object or steps down to a lower, uneven surface. Any of the two can disrupt a person’s balance and make them lose their footing. For example, an electrical engineer can trip on tangled cables lying on the floor.

Falls

Falls are the number one cause of fatalities among construction workers. They can happen to anyone if they stumble and fall too far off their center balance. For example, an electrician can fall from a ladder while fixing a light bulb.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) classifies them into two types:

  • Fall at the same level—occurs on the same working surface
  • Fall to a lower level—takes place below a person’s working surface, common for those working at heights

Slips, Trips, and Falls in Numbers

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports alarming rates of slip, trip, and fall incidents in 2020. Their most recent data show that slips, trips, and falls are among the top causes of fatal and non-fatal injuries in the workplace.

This section contains key data points from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) and Survey of Occupational Injuries and Illnesses (SOII).

Fatal Injuries

  • Slips, trips, and falls have garnered about 805 cases in 2020.
  • This makes them the second leading cause of fatalities in the workplace next to transportation incidents.
  • The construction industry accounts for over 45 percent of these cases.
  • A whopping 80 percent of the total cases come from falling to lower levels.

Non-Fatal Injuries

  • Slips, trips, and falls accounted for over 211,640 cases in 2020.
  • They are one of the top three causes of non-fatal work injuries involving days away from work.
  • More than half of these cases result from floors, walkways, and ground surfaces.
  • A substantial amount of these incidents are caused by falling on the same level.

Industries at Risk

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lists the following industries as those that have the highest risk of slip, trip, and fall incidents:

  • Healthcare support
  • Building maintenance and sanitation
  • Transportation and materials
  • Construction and extraction

Common Causes and Risk Factors

Slips, trips, and falls can happen due to many reasons—from uneven working surfaces to unsafe ladder positions. Knowing the causes can help managers assess risk factors and devise ways to prevent them.

This section lists the causes and risk factors for each type of hazard.

Slips

  • Wet spills (e.g., water, mud, grease, oil, food, blood, etc.)
  • Dry product spills (e.g., powder, dust, wood chips, granules, plastic wraps)
  • Weather hazards (e.g., ice, snow)
  • Loose, unanchored mats and rugs
  • Concrete, ceramic tile, or marble floors
  • Newly waxed floors
  • Sloped or uneven walking surfaces
  • Wet, muddy, greasy shoes
  • Ramps or planks without skid- or slip-resistant surfaces
  • Metal surfaces
  • Climbing ladders

Trips

  • Clutter on the floor
  • Obstructed view
  • Poor lighting
  • Misshapen, wrinkled carpets or mats
  • Uncovered cables, wires, hoses, and extension cords
  • Open drawers, cabinets, doors, etc.
  • Uneven walkways
  • Unmarked steps or ramps
  • Missing floor tiles and bricks
  • Damaged steps
  • Irregular, improper, or non-uniform steps

Falls

  • Weak or damaged ladders
  • Ledges without proper railing
  • Carrying heavy objects
  • Failure to use guardrails on scaffolding
  • Unprotected edges
  • Unsafely positioned ladders
  • Misused fall protection equipment

OSHA Regulations

The Occupational Safety and Health Standards 1910 Subpart D (Walking-Working Surfaces) provides general standards for walking-working surfaces. These surfaces include passageways, storage rooms, service rooms, working areas, and more.

The 1910.22 Regulations outline several points for safe working surfaces as follows:

  • Keep workroom floors clean, orderly, and dry.
  • Maintain a functional drainage system if working on wet surfaces.
  • Keep surfaces free of hazards such as sharp objects, loose boards, corrosions, leaks, spills, snow, and ice.
  • Ensure that the working surface can support the maximum intended load.
  • Provide safe means of entering and exiting from walking surfaces.
  • Inspect the working surface to keep it in good condition.
  • Repair hazardous floors as soon as possible.

7 Tips for Preventing Slips, Trips, and Falls

Fortunately, most slip, trip, and fall incidents are avoidable. By using the right safety tools and training employees, companies can prevent these incidents from happening in their workplaces.

Safety officers should take note of the following aspects to keep their workplaces and fellow employees safe from slips, trips, and falls.

preventing slips trips and falls in the workplace

How to Prevent Slips, Trips, and Falls in the Workplace

1. Practice good housekeeping

A slip-free workspace begins with housekeeping. Removing clutter helps tidy up the floor and makes it walkable for everyone. Start good housekeeping habits with the following tips:

  • Keep drawers, cabinets, and other storage items closed when not in use.
  • Throw away trash in the right bin.
  • Put boxes away from the main halls.
  • Hide cables, extension cords, and wires in protective covers.

2. Provide adequate lighting in walking areas

Dimly lit walkways can also put people at risk of trips and falls. When they cannot see their path clearly, they might knock over objects and fall on the floor.

Workers can navigate through spaces better if there is enough light. Given this, it’s best to place proper lighting in access and egress points such as halls, ramps, stairs, and exits.

3. Install safety signs

Safety signs and markers are a must in preventing slips, trips, and falls. Installing them warns people about walking in hazardous spaces to keep them safe.

Different zones require specific safety signs. For example, establishments place the “Caution: Wet Floor” sign to alert guests of slippery floors. Meanwhile, construction safety uses warning lines, control zones, and designated areas to mark which areas are passable or restricted.

4. Clean spills immediately

Spills are one of the most common fall hazards in the workplace. They come in different forms—from a splash of soda in a cafeteria to a bucket of water soaking the hospital floor. Wherever the ground is slippery, feet lose traction and go off balance.

In case of spills, have them cleaned as soon as possible. Mop and sweep or dry any substance on the floor that could slip or trip another person. Proper cleaning ensures that the floor is free from hazardous elements so that people can walk safely.

5. Make sure proper footwear is worn

Aside from keeping the floors clean, it’s also important to equip workers with proper footwear. The right shoes protect their feet from harmful elements that can cause them to slip, trip, or fall.

The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) requires the use of non-slip shoes with good traction. These shoes should also protect workers from static electricity, falling objects, explosions, exposure to hazardous substances, and other risks.

Moreover, avoid wearing sandals, canvas shoes, high heels, and open-toed shoes while on work surfaces. These types of footwear can increase one’s risk of getting injured.

6. Maintain and improve floor quality

Fall protection goes beyond simply mopping off spills from the floor. It also involves paying attention to the quality of walking and working surfaces.

Modifying the floor space can go a long way in ensuring safety from slips, trips, and falls. Here are some of the best practices that companies can explore in improving their floor quality:

  • Inspect floors regularly for cracks, holes, missing blocks, uneven surfaces, and other hazards that can trip people.
  • Invest in resilient, non-slippery flooring.
  • Install mats, abrasive-filled paint-on coating, pressure-sensitive abrasive strips, and synthetic decking. They provide enough friction and reduce foot fatigue.

7. Implement safety plans and protocols

Lastly, a well-thought safety plan cements all efforts in promoting fall protection, especially in high-risk workspaces. This plan should include the following:

  • Slips, trips, and falls risk assessment
  • Safety standards and practices
  • Slips, trips, and falls training for workers on-site
  • Regular inspection and maintenance checks
  • Specifications for safety and other equipment

OSHA provides guidelines on safe working surfaces that companies can integrate into their safety plan. For example, the table below shows the distance requirements for fall protection.

Location Minimum distance for fall protection in elevated spaces
General industries 4 feet (1.22 meters)
Shipyards 5 feet (1.52 meters)
Construction sites 6 feet (1.83 meters)
Long-shore operations 8 feet (2.44 meters)

OSHA also includes specifications for safety equipment such as harnesses, lines, safety nets, stair railings, handrails, and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).

Keep Your Workplace Safe with iAuditor

iAuditor by SafetyCulture is an all-in-one digital platform that you can use to streamline your fall protection efforts. It offers tools to help you manage fall safety inspections, provide OSHA safety toolbox talks, and more. Use iAuditor to:

leizel estrellas safetyculture content specialist

SafetyCulture Content Specialist

Leizel Estrellas

Leizel Estrellas is a content writer and researcher for SafetyCulture. Her academic and professional training as a researcher allows her to write meaningful articles that create a lasting impact. As a content specialist, she strives to promote a culture of safety in the workplace through accessible and reader-friendly content. With her high-quality work, she is keen on helping businesses across industries identify issues and opportunities to improve every day.

Leizel Estrellas is a content writer and researcher for SafetyCulture. Her academic and professional training as a researcher allows her to write meaningful articles that create a lasting impact. As a content specialist, she strives to promote a culture of safety in the workplace through accessible and reader-friendly content. With her high-quality work, she is keen on helping businesses across industries identify issues and opportunities to improve every day.