Keeping your feet facing down
Businesses should ensure safety measures are put in place to avoid costly slips and falls in the workplace. GREG BOSWARVA, owner of Supersafe Systems – a market leader in anti-slip products – explains how this can be achieved.
Although there are no statistics available in South Africa specifically on slip and fall accidents, the country’s incidences must bear some relation to the reported information regarding such accidents from the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK).
The US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that slipping and falling account for 15 percent of all accidental deaths; second only to motor vehicle accidents. The costs of injuries due to slipping exceed US$100 billion (nearly R1 230 billion) each year.
A National US Health Survey indicates that one in 15 people incurs a home injury requiring medical attention every year, with slip and fall injuries forming the bulk of these. Around 28 000 people are killed every year by unintentional home injuries, and, of these, about 11 000 are related to slips and falls.
The US National Safety Council reports that 170 000 people are injured in bathtubs and showers. It adds that over 800 000 injuries occur on floor surfaces for various reasons each year.
In the UK, the single most common cause of non-fatal injuries to employees is slipping or falling, and the European Foundation ranks these as the second-highest common cause of injuries in eight European countries.
However, workplace injuries in South Africa constitute a high proportion of risk. Those in clerical and administrative occupations suffer 14,41 percent of all reported occupational health and safety accidents involving compensation claims. Loss incidents involving office equipment make up 3,79 percent of all accidents.
Claims with the South African Compensation Commissioner reveal a saga of constant losses in human life, quality of life and suffering related to loss of skills and productivity, making the prevention of slip and fall components imperative. Total claims in recent years have averaged around 200 000 to 220 000 per annum.
What causes slips and trips?
Slips happen where there is too little friction or traction between the footwear and the walking surface.
Common causes of slips are wet or oily surfaces; occasional spills; weather hazards; loose, un-anchored rugs or mats; flooring, or other walking surfaces that do not have the same degree of traction in all areas.
Trips happen when your foot collides with an object causing you to lose your balance and eventually fall.
Some common causes of tripping are an obstructed view; poor lighting; clutter in your way; wrinkled carpeting; uncovered cables; bottom drawers not being closed; or uneven walking surfaces – such as steps or thresholds.
Both slips and trips result from some kind of unintended, or unexpected, change in the contact between the feet, ground or walking surface. This shows that good housekeeping, the quality of the flooring, selection of proper footwear, type of stair treads and an appropriate pace of walking are critical for preventing fall accidents.
Good housekeeping is the first and most important level for preventing falls due to slips and trips. It includes cleaning all spills immediately; marking spills and wet areas; mopping or sweeping debris from floors; removing obstacles from walkways; and always keeping walkways free of clutter.
It also requires securing (through tacking or taping) mats, rugs and carpets that do not lie flat; always closing filing cabinet or storage drawers; covering cables that cross walkways; keeping work areas and walkways well lit; and replacing used light bulbs and faulty switches.
Without good housekeeping practices, any other preventive measures, such as installation of sophisticated flooring, speciality footwear or training on techniques of walking and safe falling, will never be fully effective.
If you cannot remove the hazard then ensure that you control it. Recoating or replacing floors, installing stair treads with durable non-slip capabilities, and installing mats, pressure-sensitive abrasive strips or adhesive-filled paint on coating, metal or synthetic decking can further improve safety and reduce the risk of falling.
However, it is critical to remember that hi-tech flooring and treads still require good housekeeping. In addition, resilient, non-slippery flooring and stair treads (such as rubber and encapsulated grits and some vinyl flooring) prevent or reduce foot fatigue and contribute to slip prevention measures.
Who is responsible?
Slip and fall accidents are almost all directly connected to the floor – either you slip on it, or you fall on it. So, who is responsible for an injury resulting from a slip and fall accident?
As we have seen, many thousands of people are injured each year – some very seriously – when they slip or trip and fall on a “dangerous floor”, a flight of stairs, or a rough patch of ground.
Sometimes property owners are responsible for the accident, and sometimes they (or the company) are not.
While there is no precise way to determine when someone else is legally responsible for something on which you slip and trip, cases turn on whether the property owner acted carefully so that the slipping or tripping was not likely to happen – and whether the victim was careless in not seeing or avoiding the accident.
In conclusion, being mindful of the risk of slips and falls, and using the right preventative materials can avoid a property owner a potential law suit or workplace injury.