It can’t happen to me. It’s easy to think this when it comes to falls. That’s one reason prevention can be a tough sell to workers in the field. Sure they pay attention during OSHA’s annual fall prevention week that takes place every May. But what about times like now, in September, months after we focused on it in toolbox talks?
Mason contractors strive to give our crews reliable safety materials, especially when it comes to fall prevention, but we should keep directing attention to it because falls can happen to anyone. Rather, falls happen to everyone at some point. From the apprentice to the veteran. Most of the time, a slip, trip, or fall (STF) is nothing more than the kind of stumble that momentarily embarrasses us or makes us chuckle at our co-worker. There are times, though, that a simple slip can knock someone’s back out for months.
The Big Picture
Two Federal fall-related OSHA standards were among the top 10 most frequently cited violations. The first most often cited violation in the entire scope of the construction industry involved Fall Protection (29 CFR 1926.501). The ninth concerned Fall Protection–Training Requirements (29 CFR 1926.503).
OSHA relayed some Bureau of Labor Statistics info in this year’s National Safety Stand-Down, held annually to raise fall hazard awareness across the country in an effort to stop fall fatalities and injuries: “Fatalities caused by falls from elevation continue to be a leading cause of death for construction employees, accounting for 370 of the 991 construction fatalities recorded in 2016. Those deaths were preventable.” https://www.osha.gov/StopFallsStandDown/
Slips, trips, and falls cause 25% of reported injuries, according to the Department of Labor. More than 15% of all disabling occupational injuries result from falls.
These incidents may lead to bruises, abrasions and lacerations, or sprains, strains, and fractures. Falls jeopardize the entire body, and though we can see external injuries, there may also be internal injuries to consider.
Contractors know all too well too that falls cost the employee and the company to lose productivity. They cause insurance premiums to increase. And then, should the employee be hospitalized, severely injured, disabled, or worse, there’s the cost to train and replace that worker.
Let’s take a moment to consider the difference between each type of fall.
Slip: a brief, unintentional slide that generally causes you to lose your balance.
Trip: This is the one that tends to embarrass us when we do it outside the workplace. This happens when we catch our foot on something then lose our balance and fall forward.
Fall: This is when we are pulled downward with no control. In this case we often reach out for something to stabilize us, to stop the motion, to prevent us from making contact with something else such as a wall, a person, a railing, etc.
Many causes are found on the ground or floor itself. However, OSHA lists several catalysts commonly found among a variety of environments:
- Poor lighting or glare
- Bulky PPE
- Excessive noise/temperature
- Fog, mist
- Less than optimal housekeeping
- Improper cleaning methods and products
- Inadequate or missing signage
Sometimes we bring STFs upon ourselves. Failing to wear our glasses makes us walking targets. Maybe we’re too tired or too stressed to pay adequate attention and walk carefully through a site. Sometimes we’re mentally or visually distracted or out-of-focus because of a new medication. It’s increasingly likely we were looking at our phone and not the area around us, which can be a rather embarrassing reality.
Considering these causes allows us to understand a little better why it’s said that falls are preventable. We all know there’s truth to the cliche “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That ounce comes in two flavors: our own actions and our personal protective equipment. Let’s consider prevention methods for the job site and the office.
Two Kinds of On-Site Falls
On the jobsite there are often two kinds of STFs to consider: those at ground level and those that are elevated. At ground level, some common items help protect workers from head to toe: hard hats and steel-toed work boots. Proper work boots are the simplest form of PPE. They perform multiple duties. They protect the feet and toes of those in the field. They’re slip resistant and, because they come up to the ankle, they prevent many ankle injuries.
Meanwhile, hard hats, of course, protect us if we hit our heads on bricks, concrete flooring, or another hard surface.
Falls to a lower level is the second highest cause of preventable workplace fatalities, the National Safety Council claims. https://www.nsc.org/in-the-newsroom/nsc-releases-annual-compilation-of-the-leading-causes-of-preventable-death
David Ivey, product development quality manager at Malta Dynamics, calls PPE for these conditions the “ABCs of fall protection:”
Anchors— Attached to a structure, these give employees an object to tie off of. The structure must be able to withstand an impact force of 5,000 lbs. if a fall should occur.
Bodywear— Employees are required to wear a harness to help distribute fall forces throughout the body while being suspended in an upright position. They should fit snugly to ensure maximum protection.
Connectors— These connect bodywear to an anchorage point. When choosing the proper connection, always account for the fall distance that can potentially occur. A main goal of fall protection is to limit the forces the body is subjected to during a fall. As a fall protection user, thoroughly inspect each product before every use to ensure your safety.
Fall Dangers Lurk In the Office
Though we might think of it as harmless place to work compared to job sites, the office hosts many opportunities for falls. Tripping hazards include briefcases, handbags, other personal items cords and cables edging into or draped across paths where people commonly walk. They should be stored away from these areas. Desk and cabinet drawers are also fall culprits. Closing them up when not in immediate use prevents incidents and accidents.
Here are some ideas for preventing slips and trips in the office from the National Safety Council’s Safety & Health magazine: http://www.safetyandhealthmagazine.com/articles/14029-preventing-slips-trips-and-falls
- Clean up spills immediately. This may lead to a large area of the floor being wet, but isn’t that what those yellow “Caution: Wet Floor” flip signs are for?
- Walkways and hallways should be clear, free of all obstacles from boxes and paper to toilet paper and paper towels.
- Shut filing cabinets and drawers when not in use.
- Burnt-out light bulbs need to be replaced immediately; you never know what fall hazards lurk in the dark.
- The same goes for slippery floor mats and flooring that’s split, worn or otherwise damaged.
Sometimes office fall prevention mirrors that of on site prevention. That’s the case in these tips:
Practice good housekeeping:Cleanliness isn’t just a matter of looking pleasant. It can also save you from taking a spill. This is not a one-and-done job though. Good housekeeping is conducted often and regularly enough to be routine.
“If an organization’s facilities are noticeably clean and well organized, it is a good indication that its overall safety program is effective as well,” according to an article in Grainger’s The Safety Record. https://safety.grainger.com/people/6-tips-help-prevent-slips-trips-and-falls
To get that kind of clean requires a program, the article suggested. Assigning these tasks help ensure they’ll be completed.
Be self-aware: This video raises some good questions for checking your self-awareness.
Awareness is also an element within the National Safety Council’s Four A’s of Fall Prevention. Here are the other three A’s:
Address the hazard: Don’t assume someone else is taking care of it. Clean up spills. Find out what’s causing a spill and alert a supervisor or janitorial staff if necessary.
Always keep safety in mind. Don’t walk too quickly or while engaged in something on your cell phone. Look out for changes in elevation. Watch where you’re going—even in familiar areas.
Ask about fall protection plans, PPE training, personal fall arrest systems, if ladders are on a firm and solid surface, and other questions pertinent to the office or job site. Little STFs will creep up to occasionally embarrass us but sometimes falls lead to major injuries. Prevention goes a long way, whether it saves face or a life.
It’s imperative we keep that message fresh, stating and restating it, and finding new ways to state it. Some organizations have dedicated a week each year to this topic. We can always back those up with refresher courses too.
What are you doing to inspire fall prevention? Let us know on our Facebook or LinkedIn page.