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 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.
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 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
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports alarming rates of slip, trip, and fall incidents in 2021. 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).
- Slips, trips, and falls have garnered about 850 cases in 2021.
- This makes them the second leading cause of fatalities in the workplace next to transportation incidents.
- The construction industry accounts for over 46.2 percent of these cases.
- A whopping 80 percent of the total cases come from falling to lower levels.
- 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.
Note: Detailed nonfatal data for 2021 is not currently available since BLS transitioning from an annual to a biennial publication schedule.
Industries at Risk
The National Safety Council lists the following industries as those that have the highest risk of slip, trip, and fall incidents:
- Transportation and material moving occupation
- Construction and extraction
- Installation, maintenance, and repair
- Building, grounds cleaning, and maintenance
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.
- 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
- 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
- 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 and height access equipment
Slips, Trips, and Falls Hazards
Slips, trips, and falls can result in severe and life-changing injuries, and unfortunately, they can even be fatal. To give you a comprehensive idea, here is a list of the most frequently occurring injuries associated with slips, trips, and falls hazards:
- Sprains and strains – When a person slips or trips and tries to catch themselves or regain balance, they may twist or stretch their muscles or ligaments, leading to sprains or strains. This commonly occurs in the ankles, wrists, or knees.
- Fractures and broken bones – Falling from a height or landing forcefully on a hard surface can cause fractures or breaks in bones. The wrists, hips, and ankles are particularly vulnerable to fractures during falls.
- Contusions and bruises – Impacts with the ground or objects during a fall can cause contusions, commonly known as bruises. These result from damaged blood vessels beneath the skin, leading to discoloration, pain, and swelling.
- Head injuries – Falls that involve striking the head on a hard surface can cause traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). These injuries can range from mild concussions to more severe cases that result in brain damage, loss of consciousness, or long-term cognitive impairments.
- Cuts and lacerations – Falls may involve contact with sharp or rough objects, leading to cuts and lacerations. These injuries can vary in severity and may require stitches or medical attention.
- Back and spinal cord injuries (SCI) – Falls that involve landing on the back or experiencing a jarring impact can cause damage to the spine, such as herniated discs, spinal fractures, or spinal cord injuries. These injuries can result in long-term disabilities or paralysis.
- Neck injuries – Related to the previous item, neck injuries are sometimes a result of spinal injuries or damage to the muscles, ligaments, or tendons in the neck.
The Occupational Safety and Health Standards 1910 Subpart D (Walking-Working Surfaces) provides general standards for walking-working surfaces. These surfaces include passageways, warehouses, 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.
Improve your EHS Management
Cultivate a safe working environment and streamline compliance with our EHS solutions.Explore now
Fortunately, most slip, trip, and fall incidents are avoidable. By using the right safety tools and by 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.
1. Practice good housekeeping
- 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. To keep water from the floor, you may also consider various dewatering methods and equipment such as a sump pump.
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
Aside from these tips, employers, safety officers, and authorized personnel can also conduct regular slips, trips, and falls toolbox talks. These safety talks aim to enhance employee awareness and emphasize the risks associated with their tasks, thereby providing them with better protection against fall-related injuries.
Create Your Own Safety Plan
Eliminate manual tasks and streamline your operations.Get started for FREE
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.
|Minimum distance for fall protection in elevated spaces
|4 feet (1.22 meters)
|5 feet (1.52 meters)
|6 feet (1.83 meters)
|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).
SafetyCulture (formerly iAuditor) 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 and construction toolbox talks, other related toolbox talk templates, and more. Use SafetyCulture to:
- Edit and fill out a pre-made risk assessment template from the Public Library.
- Perform fall safety inspections on your handheld device.
- Capture equipment and work surface issues in detail with annotations and photos.
- Raise fall hazard alerts using the Actions feature.
- Generate and share custom reports in PDF, Web, and Word formats.
- Utilize the analytics dashboard for enhancing safety practices.
FAQs about Slips, Trips, and Falls
Some of the most common causes of slips, trips, and falls are wet spills, cluttered walkways, uneven surfaces, poor lighting, weak or damaged ladders, improper use of or not using fall protection equipment, and lack of handrails or guardrails.
As a business, it is the responsibility of employers to keep their workers safe and protected from workplace accidents such as slips, trips, and falls. Aside from that, preventing this workplace hazard is important because it helps avoid negative financial impact, ensure legal and regulatory compliance, increase productivity, enhance business reputation, and improve employee morale and satisfaction.
OSHA’s primary standard for slip, trip, and fall hazards falls under the General Industry Walking-Working Surface standard. Some safety tips emphasized in this standard are to ensure that workers are trained to protect themselves from the hazard, use the right tools as needed, and equip workers with proper ladders.
While there’s no foolproof way of preventing all slips, trips, and falls, the majority of incidents can be mitigated by implementing proper safety measures, maintaining a hazard-free environment, and promoting awareness and safe practices among employees.