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Slip, Trip, and Fall Hazards: An Overview

We can’t save ourselves from the things we don’t consider risky. Walking, for example, is a pretty easy thing to do for most of us, and yet it can cause a disabling injury or even prove fatal! Slipping on a wet surface, tripping on an object, and falling as a result is one such risk associated with walking. The thing to remember is that walking itself is not hazardous, but a change in our walk due to different elements (like obstructions, slippery floor, or different elevations) can be so. The risk is present everywhere -- right from our home to when we step outside it, on the road, and in our workplace.
Slips and falls are the leading cause of workers’ compensation claims.
Slips, trips, and falls are among the most common of workplace accidents. Moreover, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics slips, trips, and falls are the reason for 14% of all accidental deaths, after fatalities caused by motor vehicles.
Fatal occupational injuries by major event, 2011. Source: https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/cfoi.pdf

What do statistics say?

  • According to the National Safety Council, nearly $70 billion is spent each year on medical expenses and workers' compensation for employee slip and fall accidents.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that the total annual cost (direct and indirect) of fall injuries will reach $54.9 billion (in 2007 dollars) by the year 2020.
  • Loss of workdays and the frequency of occurrences of STFs at workplace were also calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in its news release for the year 2010. The release stated that while falls on the same level had a 18% incidence ratewith 8 median days away from work, falls to lower levelshad a 7.3% incidence rate with a median of 14 days away from work. Slip, trip, or loss of balance without falling had a 3.8% incidence rate, with 8 median days away from work.
  • According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), floors and flooring material are responsible for over 2 million fall injuries each year.
  • The National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI) states that slips and falls are the leading cause of workplace injuries among people aged 15-24 years.
  • The NFSI also reveals that walking surfaces contribute to 55% of all slips, trips, and falls. while fraud, improper footwear, hazard identification, and lack of training cause the remaining 45% of slip, trip, and fall accidents in the workplace.
Incidence rate is the measure of frequency with which a case occurs in a given time period.
It is calculated as:
Incidence rate:
New cases occurring during a given period of time x10n
Population at risk during same time period
The median of days away from work is a measure used to summarize the varying lengths of absences from work among the cases with days away from work. The median is the point at which half of the cases involved more days away from work and half involved less days away from work.
U.S Bureau of Labor

What is a Slip, Trip, and Fall?

Slip: A slip is caused by absence of sufficient friction between a person’s feet and his/her walking surface. Two of the main reasons for slips are walking on slippery surfaces and wearing the wrong footwear.

Trip: A trip is a loss of balance that occurs when the forward or backward movement of one foot or both feet is interrupted. This interruption could be caused when a person stumbles on an object in his/her way.

Fall: A fall is the consequence of a slip. Falls happen when an irregular body movement disrupts balance.

Factors contributing to slips, trips, and falls

Factors that contibute to slips, trips, and falls can be physiological, social, and environmental.
Physiological factors:
Each of us differs in physique, which determines the way and the pace at which we walk, and affects our ability to walk safely. Improper balance or loss of balance is the leading physiological reason for slips and falls. Ageing also has a significant bearing on walking. As people age, vision, foot, thigh and calf strength along with skeletal strength all weaken, which may contribute to slips, trips, and falls. Poor nerves (like foot numbness) can also lead to people falling. Confusion about the environment is also one of the common reasons for falls.

Social factors:
Social and emotional factors like a person’s age, sex, preoccupation, or disability can cause a slip, trip, or fall. Hormonal variations, age, physical or emotional disability can also become reasons for slips and falls. Thinking about something while walking, or lack of concentration also contribute directly to falls. Medication and taking illicit drugs can have side effects like dizziness, blurred vision, loss of balance, all of which increase the risk of a slip or a fall.
Environmental factors:
This includes everything around us that interrupts safe walking. Often times, victims hold environmental factors responsible for their falls when the reason could be either physiological or social. At times, it is also a combination of two or all these factors. For instance, an elderly person using an assistive device like a cane may fail to see a cord lying on the floor, trip and fall injuring him/herself. While social factors contributing to the fall is the age and the inability to restore balance after the trip, the obstruction on the walking surface (in this case, the cord) is the environmental factor responsible for the trip and the fall. In such a case, it’s difficult to place responsibility solely on either the property owner or the STF victim. (See premises liability)
Property owners are bound by a legal liability (premises liability) toward accidents and injuries on their property or premise – meaning they are responsible for the safety of people who enter that property or premise.

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