Regardless of the specific trade you work in, some types of onsite injuries are part of daily worries. While some injury events are more likely or specific to certain trades, some affect all trades the same. These universal injury types are hard to eliminate, and cost lost time throughout various industries.
No type of injury is more costly to general industry than falls, slips and trips. They account for almost 26% of all time-lost injuries, and in 2016, accounted for 849 fatalities. They are the leading cause of injury and death within the construction industry, but at the same time, are usually the most preventable incidents. Today, we take a look at falls, slips and trips, the injuries they cause, the causes of incidents, the costs of these injuries, and what you can do to prevent them.
You may think that these events are interchangeable, but in reality, there are some well-defined lines that separate one from the other. A slip happens when there is a loss of friction or traction between a person’s feet or footwear, and the surface they are walking or standing on.
The causes of slips are plenty:
- Wet product or spills such as water, grease, blood, oil, and more on smooth floors.
- Fine, dry products or spills such as dust, powders, granules, and plastic wrapping.
- Highly-polished or freshly-waxed surfaces including concrete, marble, and ceramic tile.
- Loose rugs, mats, and floorboards
- Sloped walking surfaces without slip-resistant surfaces.
- Wet, muddy, or greasy footwear.
Even on outside jobsites, there are plenty of hazards to deal with, as loose and irregular surfaces such as gravel, uneven or muddy terrains, weather hazards, and plant debris ranging from leaves and pine needles to moss covering can make for slippery surfaces.
Trips, on the other hand, occur when your foot or lower leg hits an object, but your upper body continues moving. This leads to a loss of balance. Stepping up or down to a lower surface and losing your balance is also considered a trip.
Trips always involve objects. While slips can happen on clean and clear surfaces, trips require something getting in the way. This could range from open cabinets or extension cords stretched across walkways, to the curled edges of carpets and mats or a piece of equipment left lying around. As objects are involved, these are often the most preventable of the three types of incidents. Eliminate objects, and you eliminate trip potential.
A fall occurs when you get too far off your center of balance and topple. There are two different types of falls — falls at the same level, defined as falling to the same walking or working surface, and falls to lower levels, where the person falls below the walking or working surface.
For example, if someone was working on the second level of a building and they fell, but landed on that same level, that’s a fall at same level. If they were to fall through a hole, or off the edge of that second level, that would be a fall to lower level.
Essentially, many falls are the result of slips and trips. You can trip and not fall, or trip and fall, the same as you can slip and fall, or slip but not fall.
How Severe Can They Be?
While they may be well-defined in how they differ from one-another, all three lead to similar injuries.
As far as injury locations go, the trunk of the body is generally unaffected by these events. Of course, in falls from second level and above, that goes out the window – those tend to have full-body effects. For same-level falls, or slips and trips without falls, the usual injury sites are:
- Knees, ankles, and feet
- Wrists and/or elbows
The types of injuries are also similar. Bruises, contusions, and abrasions are the most common, and are generally the least concerning. Lacerations can be ugly, and if deep enough, can lead to serious injury. The most worrisome are the injuries that are non-superficial, such as sprains, strains, and fractures. The former two can lead to nagging, long-term injuries or permanent issues, while the latter can lead to permanent disability and even fatalities.
The Costs of Falls, Slips, and Trips
Falls, slips, and trips have a high cost to the construction industry.
At the top of that list is the high cost of lost time. The median amount of time missed for all events in 2016 was 8 days, but for slips, trips and falls, this median number rose to 12 days. At the same time, 33% of slips, trips, and falls led to 31 days or more missed of work. That’s one in every 3 events. Of these, falling to a lower level was by far the worst, as adding that level adds eight days to the median number of days missed. If you look at distance, falling more than six feet often triples or quadruples the amount of time missed.
Then there are the monetary costs involved. For the employers, every incident can lead to increased insurance premiums, costs of care above and beyond insurance caps, and potential legal costs stemming from an incident. Potential OSHA fines can come from an incident, which will have to be paid by your company. There’s also the cost of training replacement workers, costs that can be severe if the victim is a specialist.
If you want numbers to put on it, Liberty Mutual’s yearly workplace safety index study puts in perspective. In the 2018 study, same-level falls, slips, and trips was the second-costliest cause of injury, costing companies 11.2 billion dollars, in a single year! If that’s not bad enough, following it up in third place was lower-level falls, at 5.9 billion dollars. Combined, they would far eclipse the current costliest cause, overexertion, which rings up a 13.7 billion dollar cost per year.
Preventing Falls, Slips, and Trips
As they are such a high percentage of workplace injuries, it shouldn’t surprise you that there’s been a lot of effort put forward in preventing these incidents. It starts with education – having a safety program in place that teaches about the potential slip, trip, and fall risks in your business or on your job sites.
Make sure to use the proper safety signage wherever there could be issues. This can range from “slippery when wet” signs to highly-visible cones, cones with bars, and other markers to caution workers where there may be dangers. By marking possible hazards, everyone will note that there is something to be aware of.
Invest in the appropriate fall protection equipment, with hooks, harnesses, anchors, and other equipment to help your employees stay tethered in when working at heights. Teach them proper usage, as well as proper inspection procedures. Make sure to replace all safety equipment that is showing signs of wear that can cause it to be unsafe.
At PowerPak, we know that the safety of you, your employees, and anyone who comes onto your jobsite is of the utmost importance. Reach out to one of our team and find out how we can help you to prevent falls, slips, trips, and other onsite injuries, and help you and your team members avoid what could be a life-changing incident.
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