Preventing Slips and Falls

by R. Bruce Wright, CPCU

Common everyday exposures may lead to injuries more often than we give them credit for.

Preventing injuries to both employees and members of the public is a primary focus of loss prevention efforts. Utility safety efforts often focus on preventing line contact injuries, for obvious reasons; these cases can be catastrophic in nature, are high profile, and are among the most alarming events imaginable for an electric utility. Happily, these events are very rare today, as our training and skills in prevention programs have increased, although they continue to occupy much of our attention. But as we continue our efforts to eliminate catastrophic events, we should also give some thought to the more mundane, common everyday exposures that may lead to injuries to our employees, our members and others in the public.

According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), slips and falls are responsible for the majority of general business accidents. They even cause 15% of all accidental deaths, and are second only to motor vehicles as a cause of fatalities. And sprains, strains, and more serious injuries arising from tripping, twisting, or falling are a leading cause of WC incidents as well.

So what’s the specific risk for utilities? A slip and fall can happen anywhere an employee or a member of the general public walks while on your premises. Mishaps can occur in parking lots, lobby areas, kitchens, bathrooms, employee break rooms, warehouses and shop areas, as well as on sidewalks and any exterior walkways. And many employee “trip and fall” incidents take place on uneven ground at worksites away from our buildings.

In the field, there is little or no chance to modify the surroundings to reduce hazards. As a result, it is up to the employees and supervisors on-site to modify their own behavior in order to avoid injuries. First and foremost is to take your time! Hurrying, using short cuts, and taking risks is behind many of the slips, trip, falls, sprains, and strains that occur in the field. Don’t try to do too much, or do it alone. Also, inattention or the failure to spot a hazard (a hole, a muddy wet spot, a projecting root or rock) can result in an injury are often caused or contributed to, by a worker’s effort to work too quickly. Make sure your field workers know that employee safety, their safety, comes first, even ahead of getting the lights back on!

By contrast, back at the office there are lots of ways to take preventive actions to steer clear of slip and fall dangers. Most of them are common sense, but in the course of everyday work, it is all too easy to overlook them.

Basic Prevention

  • Keep all walkways and stairways free from debris and clutter. Make sure handrails on all stairs and steps are secure. All steps should have a nonskid surface or be equipped with abrasive strips.
  • Outside steps should be regularly inspected for concrete cracks or erosion and for handrail security. Effect needed repairs immediately as members of the public enter the building this way every day!
  • Inspect sidewalks and parking lots regularly for tripping hazards such as cracks or uneven surfaces. Make any necessary repairs promptly and detour walking traffic until fixed.
  • Inspect all lobby tables and chairs regularly for any needed repair or replacement.
  • Use rubber-backed absorbent mats in lobby areas when inclement weather is expected. This will help soak up water tracked into the building.
  • Mop up any spilled fluids on the floor immediately. Place “wet floor” signs in any spill areas until the floor is dry. Keep your mops and mop buckets clean and free of grease with the use of an approved detergent for your floor type, and hang your mops up to dry after each use.
  • Use a grease-cutting solution when mopping up floors with a greasy coating. Kitchens and break rooms as well as shop areas all may present this hazard. A portable floor dryer or fan can help to speed up the drying process.
  • Use floor tile with a grit built into the top finish, especially in rest room and break room areas.
  • Do not use any type of extension cords in general public areas.
  • Paint tire stops and curbs and paint designated walking paths in the warehouse and shop areas using “traffic yellow” paint for visibility. (Be sure to repaint as needed.)
  • Be prepared to clear sidewalks by maintaining clearing equipment and deicer, as well as by  checking local weather reports regularly.
  • Promptly remove snow and ice from parking lots and sidewalk areas. Completely clear any curb and gutter areas that can be hidden from a person’s view or prevent drainage from ice melt.
  • Use deicer (salt or other chemical deicers) and sand as needed to help prevent refreezing of melted snow and ice. The grit from the sand will help provide traction when walking in these areas.
  • Direct gutter downspouts to convey water away from walkways.
  • Routinely inspect all interior and exterior lighting to guarantee proper illumination. Conduct monthly tests of all emergency lighting

Act fast when an injury occurs

Injuries can range from low-impact falls not needing any medical care to “very serious” and requiring immediate medical attention, especially head and neck injuries, broken bones and open wounds. Whenever someone suffers a slip and fall:

  • Immediately check the condition of the injured person. Call an ambulance to take the person to the hospital if the injury is severe. Offer minor first aid if you have a trained first aid person on staff.
  • Obtain basic information from the injured person. Use an incident report form to record the individual’s name, address, phone number and a description of his/her injury.
  • Promptly report the injury to your agent or claims department. A quick response by a claims adjuster to the injured person can help ensure efficient and appropriate claims handling.

Steps like these can support a safety effort to prevent injuries from slips and falls. While these injuries are not as headline worthy as other types of events, they are among the most commonly seen injuries reported, and in some cases they too can be quite severe. By attending to these hazards before an incident occurs we can protect our employees, our members, and the general public from these controllable hazards.