Next inspection blitz: slips, trips and falls

Dec 13, 2012

Next inspection blitz: slips, trips and fallsIn February and March 2013, Ministry of Labour inspectors will be visiting Ontario workplaces to look for slip, trip and fall hazards. Of particular interest: hazards involving ladders and falls from heights. Take advantage of the time remaining to ensure you have the right measures in place to protect your employees.

Slips, trips and falls account for almost 1 in 5 accepted lost-time claims.1 Read on for more about

  • why slips, trips and falls keep happening
  • components of a prevention program
  • available resources

HSO Network News spoke with WSPS consultant Gordon Leffley for his perspective on why slips, trips and falls - a long-recognized injury category - continue to happen. Here's what he told us.

  • A lack of safety procedures, particularly for tasks that arise infrequently or seasonally. A few winters ago we had some particularly heavy snowfalls, to the point where workplaces were sending employees up to clear snow off the roof. Some employers were so focused on reducing roof load that prevention measures weren't top of mind. As a result, the Ministry of Labour issued quite a number of orders involving fall arrest and fall restraint systems. If you don’t have a safety procedure for a specific task, take time upfront to think it through and prepare for any situations that may arise.
  • Improper organization of work. For instance, doing work at heights when it could be done in other ways. Whenever you assign or undertake any potentially hazardous task, ask yourself if there's another way of doing it. One business I dealt with had outside light fixtures that hung off the edges of a flat roof. To reach the bulb, employees had to lean out over the edge of the roof. I suggested they install a movable fixture so that employees could swing it onto the roof, change the bulb from the safety of the roof, and swing the fixture back into place. This was a simple and inexpensive change.
  • Complacency, particularly with same level falls. This can take many forms, such as 'I'll clean this mess up later' instead of doing it right away. Or leaving material in a high traffic area instead of storing it in a designated area.
  • Distraction. Workers may have been trained on how to do something safely, but in a moment of inattention do it unsafely. What's distracting them? Could noise levels be distracting or tiring them? Are other people interrupting them unnecessarily? Are people using personal electronic devices when they should be focused on the task at hand?
  • Mixed messages. As in, 'Safety's job one, except we really need to get this done today.' This is the sort of situation in which people use the wrong equipment, such as chairs, recycling bins or garbage cans instead of stepladders, because they feel they don't have the time to do it properly. If safety is a priority, then don’t just pay lip service to it. Integrate it into everything you do. This way people see it as part of doing their work the right way.

Components of a prevention program

Just as a number of factors may contribute to slips, trips and falls, so too with prevention. Establish policies and procedures that incorporate these prevention opportunities:

  • Housekeeping. Keep pathways free of clutter and debris and store goods in a safe location. This can be a particular challenge for retail operations during the holiday season when inventory is at its highest. Keep file drawers closed when not in use, and clean all spills immediately. Secure mats, rugs and carpets. Replace cables and air hoses on the floor with drop cords or some other off-the-floor system: taping cables and hoses securely to the floor just gives you something more stable to trip over.
  • Lighting. Keep work space and pathways well lit. Replace burnt out fixtures and consider devising a lighting replacement schedule to avoid burnouts and make the best use of maintenance staff’s time. Provide flashlights for workers who must enter a space without light.
  • Floor surfaces. Implement a preventive maintenance program to ensure flooring stays in good condition. Change or modify slippery surfaces. Pay special attention to transition areas, where you're going from one surface to another, such as carpet to tile, or one condition to another, such as dry to wet or inside to outside.
  • Training. Provide workers with training on slip, trip and fall prevention, ladders and lifting devices, and fall arrest devices. Ask equipment suppliers if they have specific hazard prevention training material. See also "How WSPS can help," below.
  • Winter hazards. Keep parking lots and walkways well lit and free of ice, snow and meltwater.
  • Footwear. Ensure workers wear footwear suitable to floor and other working conditions. I know of a couple of incidents involving women carrying things on stairs while wearing high heeled shoes. It’s just not a good combination. In one instance, cleaning staff exacerbated the problem by polishing the handrails. They looked nice and shiny, but were incredibly slippery.

How WSPS can help

Workplace Safety & Prevention Services and its Health & Safety Ontario partners offer a range of resources, including:

  • a free webinar on the upcoming Ministry of Labour blitz
  • e-courses on ladder safety, preventing falls from slips and trips, and working at heights
  • downloadable guidelines on ladder safety, preventing falls from slips and trips, rolling scaffolds, walking and working surfaces
  • Certification Part Two training on slip, trip and fall hazards
  • consulting services, such as hazard assessments, customized training, and health and safety program development

1 Source: Workplace Safety and Insurance Board of Ontario: Statistical Supplement to the 2010 Annual Report