You’re at work. You slip, you trip, you fall. It’s more than just an “oops.” Serious injuries and even fatalities can result from these far too common and most often quite preventable accidents.
Workplace falls not only cause pain and suffering, they also cause time lost on the job. And prevention of the situations that can cause falls is also key to making your place of business compliant with OSHA standards. Maintaining a safe environment is essential in any industry, but it is especially key in the healthcare industry, where so many depend upon staff safety.
So let’s start with the basics. Just how do falls occur, anyway? Statistics bear out that most of the
falls that occur in the workplace happen on the same level, not going up or down stairs or from a height - which is, however, how the remaining 34% occur. In other words, most falls are slips or trips on a level surface, and a significantly smaller percentage from ladders or stairs.
Slips occur usually because there is not enough traction between footwear and the surface you’re walking on. Whether it’s due to spills, wet surfaces, loose flooring, worn rugs, or slipping mats, these are the most common reason for this type of fall. Now, tripping is different - tripping means you’ve lost your balance, and you fall for that reason, usually when you collide with another object.
You’ll usually trip due to clutter, tangled cords, a wrinkle in a carpet or mat, uneven walking surface, or poor lighting that prevents you from seeing something as innocuous as a chair leg.
Both slipping and tripping happen because there's a chance of something unexpected in the place your feet and the walking surface meet. Yes, proper footwear is key to preventing this type of accident, and so is clean and orderly, clutter-free workplace housekeeping. In addition, employees should not be moving too quickly or carrying objects that obstruct their view.
Let’s tackle clutter and cleanliness first. Good housekeeping is, after all, one of the most important ways to prevent falls and tripping. You should wipe up any spills immediately and indicate any wet areas with signs or cones. And if cleaning involves wet mopping, make sure your clean up procedures don’t cause a greater risk to common walking areas. Indicating a wet floor is very important. Any debris should be swept or mopped up quickly, and any obstacles that might block or narrow walking areas should be cleared.
Clutter tends to build up under desks, in storage areas, or closets. Don’t let things get out of hand. Out of sight may mean out of mind, but it doesn’t mean you’re out of the woods as far as safety goes. Quite the contrary. Obscured or hidden clutter causes accidents. Develop a system of filing and storing as you go - don’t let clutter build up. The more there is, the more potential hazards to you. And keep your plug-ins neat. Cord organizers to bundle cords are a great safety tool.
Employers need to have a system in place that adequately manages health and safety, identifying risk areas, consulting with staff, and having an efficient system at the ready to deal with spills and clutter. Any sloping floors or level changes should be clearly marked, too. Naturally, staff must be encouraged to cooperate with safety procedures to reduce slips and falls.
Carpets, mats, and rugs should be smooth and lying flat - if they don’t naturally hold this position, they should be secured to the flooring. Use only non-slip mats, and replace curled, torn, or bent mats immediately. It’s an excellent idea to employ water-absorbent mats in any entrance way, too, to prevent tracking in mud or water. Remember, cables and cords should also be secured and covered, and this is especially important if they cross a walkway.
Cabinets and drawers should be closed, not left open, and lighting should be sound - keep walkways and work areas properly lit. If a bulb burns out, replace it.
With these measures in place, you can look at other areas that will keep your workplace safe. Flooring - the surface you walk on - should be in good repair. Replace worn surfaces. Cracked or bent tile? Replace ASAP. Use abrasive strips if necessary to reduce sliding and slipping on overly smooth surfaces.
And the feet that are on that flooring? Comfortable shoes with soles that grip the surface of the floor are always best. And they should fit well, too. Well fitting footwear means less tired feet, less tired wearers, and wearers who are more easily able to navigate any potential workplace hazards.
In your comfortable shoes, take your time and pay attention when you’re walking. You know the saying, act in haste, repent at leisure? It’s certainly true with workplace walking. No rushing! Here’s another catch phrase. Haste makes waste - of your safety.
And remember, don’t carry or push objects that obstruct or limit your vision. Not seeing a potential workplace hazard can be the biggest hazard of all. You should be aware of where you’re going and pay careful attention to your walking surface at all times.
Slips, trips and falls very frequently cause personal injury - from sprains and torn ligaments to head injuries, broken bones, cuts, and scrapes. Yet most accidents from slipping, tripping, or falling are quite preventable just by following standard precautions and safety measures. Regular and frequent inspections will help prevent and identify any hazards in the workplace.
And if you do fall - even if you’re not injured, you should report the incident. Your minor mishap could call attention to a workplace safety problem, and prevent someone from incurring a more serious injury. Cover, clean, and report spills or hazards. If there are any regular areas, such as sink areas, or bathing areas, where the floor is slippery, install non-slip, water absorbent mats to soak up the water. And check any areas with drains or water pipes, to be sure they are functioning correctly. Back-ups can lead to more slippery hazards.
If you do fall, you’ll want to protect your head, neck, and spine. Use your arms to break your fall, and if you fall backward, tuck your chin, so that you will be less likely to hit your head on the ground at full impact. Self-protection techniques should be taught in the workplace.
And what about slips or falls above ground level? Training is key here, too, to instruct employees on the proper placement of ladders on flat, even surfaces, and careful climbing. What is careful climbing? It means maintaining three points of contact when going up or down a ladder - two hands and a foot, or two feet and one hand - at all times. Making sure that step ladders are fully opened is another safety-must.
Staying safe at work not only prevents injury and illness, it means a decrease in employee stress as well as an improvement in job satisfaction and turnover. Keeping the workplace safe is vitally important for all aspects of the healthcare professions, which are often the places of employment most susceptible to workplace injury.
In fact, over 653,000 nurses and other healthcare staffers are injured yearly, resulting in pain, suffering, and lost work days. That’s quite a number, especially considering that manufacturing facilities indicate a much lower injury figure of around 152,000. Back injuries alone account for approximately $7 billion - yes, billion - in costs to the health care industry. OSHA is required by law to ensure safe working conditions, and a lack of compliance by health care employers will result in substantial fines. At MedTrainer, we can offer comprehensive safety training to prevent slips and falls and keep healthcare staff safe and healthy, while adhering to OSHA requirements.
Staff pain and suffering aside, health care workers are skilled, necessary employees, and without them, patients suffer. Health care worker injuries can cause injury to others if inadequate health care for medical, dental, veterinary, or pharmaceutical facilities occurs due to sidelined employees.
From the standpoint of employers, it's vitally important to review the hot spots in your place of business for slip, trip, or fall accidents, and analyze what caused the incidents. Focusing on preventing these incidents means a focus on improved health care provided as well as healthy employees and a clean bill of health with OSHA compliance. You should hold regular walk-throughs to evaluate safety and point out and eliminate any potential hazards. Document any areas that need improvement, assign responsibility for improvement, and make sure that a completion date is reasonable and met.
In short, it’s always key to keep the health care workplace hazard free, and safe. The health and safety of the workers who provide health care is at risk. With rising demands for health care services of all kinds, losing health care workers to preventable injury is simply unacceptable on all counts. Lost work days, costly workers compensation accident claims, reduced productivity - this simply won't work for the health care industry. Implementing OSHA standards will keep your workplace, workers, and patients well. It’s as simple - and as necessary - as that.