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Walking and Working Surface Hazards: Don’t Fall for Them

Why worry about STFs?

According to OSHA/VOSH, STFs are the second leading cause of deaths in general industry, accounting for 15 percent of workplace deaths. In Virginia STFs are by far the leading source of injury among state employees. Since the 2001 fiscal year STFs have been the cause of nearly 20 percent of all reported injuries, resulting in over $37.8 million in total incurred costs under Virginia State Employee Workers’ Compensation Services.

Here are some of the reasons why people slip, trip, and fall in the workplace and what can be done to identify and eliminate or control these hazards.

Slips

Falls due to slips occur when there is not enough friction between the walking surface and the person’s foot, causing a loss of balance. Ordinary causes of slips include, but are not limited to:

  • Wet or oily surfaces
  • Occasional spills
  • Weather hazards
  • Loose, unanchored rugs or mats
  • Flooring or other walking surfaces that do not have the same degree of traction in all areas.1
Ideally, workers should constantly be aware of their environment, particularly walking and working surfaces. Unfortunately, other factors – personal matters, an upcoming meeting, and a conversation with a co-worker, can often affect one’s concentration and attention to surroundings.

Many walking surfaces become slippery when wet, especially smooth or polished surfaces such as marble, tile, or terrazzo. Identifying the source of the moisture is important when looking for a long-term solution. Some common sources include freshly mopped or waxed floors (before buffing), plumbing or roof leaks, and spills. There are also jobs that require employees to work on wet surfaces, such as the dishwashing area of a commercial kitchen. Interior floors usually get wet during inclement weather as water is brought in on the soles of people’s shoes or even blown in as doors are opened. In some areas such as kitchens and workshops, grease and oil may collect on the walking surface, resulting in slippery areas. These problems are compounded when the walking surface is sloped.

For these hazards, good housekeeping is the primary tool to prevent slips. Keeping floors clean and free of debris is important; however, the cleaning process can be part of the problem. When cleaning a hallway, only clean one side at a time, providing a dry path on the other side. Let it dry completely before cleaning the other side. Mark, and if possible, block off the wet portion with proper signage and barriers. Also, mark any wet areas that are the result of a spill and clean them as soon as possible. For two reasons, remember to remove the signs and barriers as soon as the area is dry: First, after the sign is no longer required, it becomes a tripping hazard. Additionally, if signs are repeatedly left out when the floors are dry, they may eventually be ignored.

Waxing floors can also be a problem. Some waxes may provide a beautiful shine, but when wet may become slippery as ice. There are floor products available that not only produce a great shine, but also provide slip resistance. Some even increase resistance when wet. Freshly applied wax is slippery, so warning signs should be posted until the floors are thoroughly buffed.

Rain and snow may cause wet floors inside building entrances. If there are hard floor surfaces, this calls for a combination of efforts. As with spills, there should be a procedure for placing warning signs and keeping the area as dry as possible. A multi-tier mat system may be used. With this, a porous non-absorbent mat is placed outside, an absorbent mat inside or inside the vestibule, with an additional absorbent walk-off mat or mats placed inside. The first is for debris removal from the shoes, allowing water to run through, and the absorbent mats help dry the shoes. Longer mats at this stage may further enhance the effectiveness of the system. However, the mats must be checked frequently for saturation. When this occurs, the mats should be switched or the water extracted. Water extractors are available, but a common wet-dry vacuum will also work. If the hard floor still gets wet, frequent mopping may be required. Other frequently wet areas such as a dishwashing area should also have a non-slip surface or mat.

Exterior hazards also require good housekeeping and maintenance. In winter weather, initial ice and snow removal from parking lots and sidewalks is critical, as is follow-up to prevent refreezing. Liquid ice melt materials are preferable to granular pellets. The pellets themselves can be as slippery as walking on marbles. In warmer weather, wet grass and residual rainwater water may be contributors. Removal of fallen leaves and other debris is important year round.

Footwear is an important factor in preventing falls from slipping. If workers will be working where floors are wet or oily, non-slip footwear is desirable. The specific hazard should be considered when selecting footwear, because non-slip properties of footwear vary and one type will probably not cover every situation. For example, neoprene soles work well on wet or dry surfaces, but not in oily conditions. Crepe is acceptable on concrete, but not on smooth surfaces such as tile and wood.

During inclement weather, particularly ice and snow, appropriate footwear is essential. Shoes or boots with good traction are preferred to leather or smooth soles. Avoid high heels and platform shoes. If dress shoes are required, bring them in a bag. Many outdoor sporting goods stores carry studded ice grippers that strap on the bottom of shoes to provide traction on ice. Recommend these to your staff, but make sure they know to take them off inside where they become a slip hazard on hard floors.

Trips

Like slips, falls from trips occur when there is an unexpected obstacle that causes a loss of balance. Uneven walking surfaces, unfastened carpeting or flooring, clutter or debris, open drawers, and other objects on the floor, such as electrical cords and pipes, are just some of the items that cause workers to trip. An obstructed view, poor lighting, inattention and haste, in combination with these objects, are often associated with tripping incidents.

Once again, good housekeeping and proper maintenance are the primary means for preventing trips. OSHA/VOSH standard 1910.22(a)(1) of 29 CFR Part 1910.22 Subpart D, Walking-Working Surfaces states that “All places of employment, passageways, storerooms, and service rooms shall be kept clean and orderly and in a sanitary condition.” 2

Here are some tips to prevent tripping:

  • Keep work areas and walking surfaces clean and free of clutter and debris
  • Keep work areas and hallways well lighted. Turn on lights or use a flashlight in unlit areas. Burned-out light bulbs should be replaced immediately.
  • Maintain clear aisles and hallways, free of furniture and other obstacles. In addition, 29 CFR 1910.22(b)(2) states: “Permanent aisles and passageways shall be appropriately marked.”3
  • Close drawers (file or desk) and remove file boxes from around furniture and other areas where workers may walk.
  • Do not run cords across walkways or aisles without taping to the floor or covering with a proper cord cover. Never cover with a rug or carpet.
  • Make sure that you can see the way ahead. Do not carry or push things that obstruct your view of the travel path.
  • Keep sidewalks, parking lots and other walking surfaces in good condition and free of uneven surfaces, such as cracks, bumps, or holes. Mark and barricade such hazards until they can be repaired.
  • Keep stairs in good condition and clear of objects. Check treads for wear and if secure. Be sure handrails are in good condition and securely fastened.
  • Secure loose flooring and carpets. Make sure rugs and mats are not turned up or folded over.
Falls

Falls due to slips and trips are generally referred to as falls from the same level. Other types of falls often involve falling from or to a different level, either from an elevated area or through an opening in the walking surface. As with the other types, these falls are the result of an excessive shift off the center of balance. For these types of incidents, good housekeeping and proper lighting is just the beginning; to protect workers, guarding and handrails are generally required. Most of these safeguards are outlined in OSHA/VOSH 29 CFR 1910.23,"Guarding floor and wall openings and holes." This standard provides the requirements for guarding openings with railings, enclosures, and handrails on stairs.

  • 1910.23(a) outlines "Protection for floor openings", such as stairway floor openings, ladderway floor openings or platforms, hatchway and chute floor openings, and skylights.
  • Section 1910.23(b)(1) of OSHA/VOSH 29 CFR 1910.23(b) “Protection for wall openings and holes”, states that "Every wall opening from which there is a drop of more than four feet shall be guarded by one of the following: Rail, roller, picket fence, half door, or equivalent barrier."4
  • Section 1910.23(c)(1) further indicates, "Every open-sided floor or platform four feet or more above adjacent floor or ground level shall be guarded by a standard railing on all open sides except where there is entrance to a ramp, stairway, or fixed ladder."5 It is under this basis that loading docks over four feet should be equipped with a moveable railing or other suitable barrier. Under four feet, the leading edge of the dock should be painted with a yellow line at least four inches wide. In addition, direct workers to use the stairs and not jump down off the dock.
  • OSHA/VOSH 1910.22(d) "Floor loading protection" states, "Load rating limits shall be marked on plates and conspicuously posted. It shall be unlawful to place, or cause, or permit to be placed, on any floor or roof of a building or other structure, a load greater than that for which such floor or roof is approved."6 Overloading an elevated floor may result in collapse, possibly with serious consequences.
Personal fall prevention

Not all work places can be changed, so there are several personal factors that workers need to remember to keep from falling. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Using proper equipment if you must work or reach a higher level, such as a ladder. Do not use chairs or tables.
  • Walking at a safe pace, alert to any obstacles that may be ahead. Adjust pace and stride for the condition of the walking surface.
  • Wearing proper footwear for the job and work surface conditions.
  • Not carrying items that block the view ahead.
  • Not jumping from heights. Climb or ease down.
  • Promptly reporting any STF hazards.
  • Taking the time to pick up small debris items or clean-up minor spills. Never assume somebody else will take care of it.
  • Using personal protective equipment where necessary.
  • Closing all file and desk drawers immediately.
  • Using a flashlight to enter dark areas.
  • Storing heavy items down low. Heavy items may be hard to handle on ladders or step stools.
Preventing STFs can be a major challenge for any agency or institution. Using these measures will help reduce the probability of STFs. The ultimate responsibility, however, rests with the worker to remain alert, recognize hazards, and take the necessary steps to avoid being injured.

1 Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety Occupational "Prevention of Slip, Trip, and Falls." Retrieved April 13, 2006, at http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/safety_haz/falls.html?oe

2 U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration. "Walking/Working Surfaces." Retrieved April 13, 2006, at http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/walkingworkingsurfaces/index.html

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid.

Resources

U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (2005, July). Walking/Working Surfaces. Retrieved April 13, 2006, from http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/walkingworkingsurfaces/index.html

U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (2005). Small Business Handbook. Retrieved April 13, 2006, from http://www.osha.gov/dcsp/smallbusiness/small-business.html#walk

Industrial Accident Prevention Association (2005, March). A Health and Safety Guideline for Your Workplace-Walking & Working Surfaces. Retrieved April 13, 2006, from http://www.iapa.ca/pdf/walking.pdf

Industrial Accident Prevention Association. (1992, February). A Health and Safety Guideline for Your Workplace-Walking & Working Surfaces. Retrieved April 13, 2006, http://www.oshforeveryone.org/ntnu/files/ont_iapa/walkingsurfaces.html?noframe

Idaho National Engineering & Environmental Laboratory. (2001, June). Walking and Working Surfaces. Retrieved April 13, 2006, from http://www.inel.gov/dmcs/prd-2005.pdf

Department of the Army Headquarters, U.S. Army Medical Department Center and School and Fort Sam Houston. (2000, July). Memorandum Number 385-32:Walking and Working Surfaces. Retrieved April 13, 2006, from http://www.cs.amedd.army.mil/iso/385-32.htm

Workforce Safety and Insurance. (2003, June). Slips, Trips, and Falls. Retrieved April 13, 2006, from http://www.workforcesafety.com/safety/sops/SlipsTripsFallsSample1.pdf

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety Occupational. (1999, June). Prevention of Slip, Trip, and Falls. Retrieved April 13, 2006, at http://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/safety_haz/falls.html?oe

Articles:Slips, Trips & Falls

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