SLIPS, TRIPS, AND FALLS

Author
David Burkhardt

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there were over 200,000 cases involving falls, slips, trips in 2012, and that’s not counting the ones that went unreported.

Many safety professional believe that these accidents are among the most under reported incidents. If you add in the slip or trip injuries that are reported incorrectly because they resulted in strains and sprains or are “bodily reaction” (a slip/trip/balance issue that didn’t result in impact)?

This issue affects companies worldwide. A 2013-14 report from Great Britain estimated that falls and slips & trips accounted for over a third of all employee injuries

The level of these injuries has been holding steady over the last few years, and even with best engineering and administrative controls, PPE, and training the number don’t change much.

Perhaps it’s time to consider another option, instead of focusing on what happened and who is responsible; it’s time to examine “why did it happen?”

There are studies indicating that mental factors can cause accidents. Attention lapses and distractions may account for many of these incidents.

A noted psychologist sees attention as having two dimensions: width and direction. Width means what you see and/or hear or smell or feel can be too broad or too fine. Direction refers to where you focus, either internally (proper procedures, a chronic pain in part of body, etc.) or externally (your surrounding or environment). We may so focused on our task that we fail to see that we could have walked around that slippery area, or are trying to be so externally aware that we didn’t notice we were holding our breath when walking on a slippery surface.

When you combine the estimate that 90 percent of the brain’s energy output is used for maintaining balance in space with other factors, it becomes easier to understand the even the most conscientious workers can become distracted.

The primary contributing factors most often cited are fatigue, stress, and age.

Fatigue

If workers are pushed, or pushes themselves too hard to keep up with their workload, physical and mental exhaustion can result. This can lead to impaired judgment, slower reflexes, a delayed response to emergencies, and inattention to details and instructions.

Stress

Job security, finances, health, and anxiety about personal issues can all increase a workers stress. When employees are distracted by real or perceived threats, they are more likely to make mistakes that could cause injury, and are more susceptible to increased risks of a heart attack, stroke, or hypertension.

Age

Aging workers are more at risk for slips, trips, and falls. Than younger workers. The reasons for this can be:

  • It takes older people longer than younger people to reestablish their balance, due to lessened sensitivity of nerves in the inner ear that detect changes in balance.
  • Older workers may no longer have the leg strength to compensate for a slight loss of balance that can result in any misstep.
  • Vision changes that make it harder to see and adjust to surface changes or obstacles.
  • Loss of joint flexibility that can reduce agility

A fixation with the task at hand, a lack of awareness about your surroundings, and the inability to react to changing conditions, may all be contributing factors in slip, trip, and fall incidents.

Workplace safety isn’t just training and equipment; it’s a state of mind.

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