Working alongside a wide range of material handling equipment, on ill-prepared work surfaces and dealing with elements like weather, congestion and poor illumination are, in many cases, part of work for many. Added to this is the reality that we now deal with the distraction of things like cell phones, creating a perfect storm of substandard conditions met by an increase of substandard behaviors.
Pedestrian safety is not an issue to be overlooked. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that on average, slips, trips and falls cause nearly 700 fatalities per year. OSHA reports that as many as 30,000 forklift accidents occur annually in the United States and close to 20 percent of those accidents involve a pedestrian being struck by the forklift. Of these forklift events, 35 percent resulted in the pedestrian’s death.
Fall injuries also have a considerable cost, with workers’ compensation totals estimated at $70 billion annually in the United States. Of this number, statistics show that over 60 percent of all falls happen on the same level and are the result of slips and trips.
The problem of slips and trips is real
In 2017, OSHA published final changes to Walking-Working Surfaces and Personal Fall Protection Systems to better protect workers in general industry from these types of hazards and the dangers posed to the pedestrian worker. The final rule has updated and clarified standards and added worker training and equipment inspections as required steps in risk mitigation.
While I believe the updated changes focus much on falls from heights, falls to the same level and to the working surface itself are part of the control expectations. I also would add that the regulatory language used in the final rule is “performance-based,” meaning there’s more room for employers to select the equipment and controls that will be most effective in the workplace. Simply put, it requires the knowledge of the employer to perform to the intent of the rule.
Pedestrian safety and the ways in which workers navigate their walking-working environment requires a complete understanding of risks, the level of risk posed to the workers, and the controls warranted that provide better safety. Since there is so much to do with falls to the same level, it is prudent to dedicate time to this subject.
How Falls Occur
Both slips and trips result from unintended or unexpected change in the contact between the feet and the ground. Slipping occurs when the friction between the foot or shoe sole and the floor surface provides insufficient resistance to counteract the forward or rearward forces that occur during the stepping process. According to a study by ergonomic research scientist Tom B. Leamon, there are two types of slips: a “microslip” that is shorter than 1.18 inches (3 cm), and a “slip” that is as long as 3.14 – 3.9 inches (8–10 cm). Sliding also should be considered, and it is regarded as the uncontrolled movement of the heel when the slip length exceeds approximately 3.9 inches (10 cm).
Microslips generally pass unnoticed, and a slip will result in instinctive efforts to regain postural control. A slide likely will lead to a loss of balance resulting in a fall. A trip occurs when the swing phase of the foot is interrupted unexpectedly due to inadequately clearing the ground. Irregularities of as little as 3/16 inch (5 mm) in the walking surface may be sufficient to cause a trip. These are all important considerations when planning fall prevention at your worksite.
In Part 2, we’ll look at how to assess fall risks.
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Scott Gaddis is Health and Safety Practice Leader at Intelex Technologies. He has over 25 years in EHS leadership experience in heavy manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and packaging industries. Before joining Intelex, Scott served as Vice President of EHS for Coveris High Performance Packaging, was Executive Director of EHS at Bristol-Myers Squibb, and was Global Leader for Occupational Safety and Health at Kimberly-Clark Corp.