M6+1’s first group feature looks at the impact of slips, trips and falls on our lives within the workplace and how we can make a difference.
International Labour Office (ILO) reminds us that every year around 337 million people are victims of workplace accidents; more than 2.3 million people die because of occupational injuries or work-related diseases around the world. The statistics for industrial accidents and fatalities in Trinidad and Tobago has its own significance – 919 industrial accidents and 5 fatalities in 2011 alone. (see table 1)
Reported Work Related Accidents in Trinidad and Tobago
Fiscal Year No. of Reported No. of which were fatalities
(October to September) Workplace Accidents
2010-2011 919 5
2009-2010 904 6
2008-2009 1114 15
(Source: osha.gov.tt: OSHA Accidents, 2011. Web. 23 September 2014.)
Employers have a legal responsibility to ensure that the workplace is safe for all employees. Likewise, employees have a responsibility to observe safe practices and not compromise safety measures in place. Incidents and accidents occur either due to employees’ non-adherence to safety and health rules and guidelines or, employers’ failure to institute strict measures to ensure sound safety and health practices in the workplace. The effects of such occurrences can be quite debilitating on lives.
To get into the right frame of mind, watch the following video on trips and falls in the workplace: Can’t Get No Traction
Trip & Fall!
Goetsch defines a hazard as a “condition with the potential of causing injury to personnel, damage to equipment or structures, loss of materials or lessening of the ability to perform a prescribed function”. He further explains that ‘trip and fall’ is a type of fall that could happen when a worker’s foot hits an unseen object, and he or she trips and falls (250).
Some major causes of trip and fall are obstructions in walkways, uneven surfaces, raised or torn mats, electrical cords, tables, boxes and deliveries out of place. Low light levels can also prevent a worker from seeing floor surfaces clearly.
For example; Jacqui, a junior clerical officer in a Port of Spain establishment, is required to move files from the secretary’s desk to the filing room. Across her path is a length of electrical cord, secured to the floor with duck-tape. On one of her trips to the filing room, Jacqui trips over the cord and sustains serious injury to her neck and lower back. Who is responsible in this scenario – The office supervisor? The person who set up the cord connection? Jacqui? Who?!
Incidents such as the one above are common in the workplace. Injuries suffered can lead to lawsuits, increased medical expenses and other costs to the firm. Therefore, a “prevention is better than cure” approach should be adopted to mitigate such hazards.
A comprehensive maintenance programme; proper housekeeping; adequate storage facilities; effective layout of machinery, furniture and equipment are all ways in which trip and fall hazards can be significantly reduced. Additionally, it should be a prominent feature in an organization-wide safety programme, where employees are sensitized about workplace safety and, embodied in policy, ‘safety is everyone’s business’.
Can’t visualize it? Watch this video on trip prevention in the workplace: The Fatal Half Inch
SLIP AND FALL!
Slip and fall, “occurs when the worker’s center of gravity is suddenly thrown out of balance” (David L. Goetsch, 250). Of the four categories of falls it is the most common. A bit of introspection would reveal that people are most wary of slip accidents and try the hardest to prevent them, despite their limited knowledge of Occupational Safety and Health. Sadly, we fall short. Do you remember this game? (see fig 3.)
As a child, slip and slide was the game of choice. In June, 2014 Climbing Frames UK ranked slip and slide second on its list of the top three children outdoors games. Even as adults, the fond memories linger and sometimes the urge to play once more is too much to resist.
The risk of serious injury, however, is very real. It is so prominent in the workplace and at home that one should vigilantly seek out hazards and assesses risks. Our guard drops dramatically when playing. Notice that the slip and slide recipe; a smooth wet surface and movement – running or walking – has a catastrophic result in the workplace. Now consider the risk one places oneself at when playing slip and slide. Contemplate a lifetime of limited physical mobility and, reduced ability to provide for self and family as a result of spinal injury or broken limbs from a slip and fall accident.
Slips are most likely to occur when the floor is smooth and moist. The likelihood of a particular moist substance being the source of a slip varies, based on the work environment, but is not limited to that specific area. In a lobby the most likely substance is water from a spill, mopping or, from wet shoes on a rainy day. In an industrial environment however, the substance is more likely to be oil or grease. Even food left carelessly on the ground can be the source of a slip and fall accident. (see fig 3.)
The key to preventing slips is traction. To properly understand traction consider the coefficient of friction which is “a numerical comparison of the resistance of one surface against another surface” (David L. Goetsch, 251); for instance, one’s shoe against the floor. The larger the decimal value, the higher the level of traction; hence, a reduced probability of slipping. To increase the coefficient of friction (traction), select the right flooring material for the environment at the construction stage. If your organization is beyond the construction stage, retrofit the surface, maintain it and invest in personal protective equipment such as non-skid boots for all the relevant personnel.
Take a look at this video for more tips on slip and fall prevention: Don’t Slip, Get a Grip
Workplace hazards that result in trip and fall or slip and fall accidents, can be quite debilitating for the injured and have significant negative impact on employers, families and communities by extension. The Occupational Health and Safety (OSH) Act, outlines both the employer’s and employee’s responsibilities towards a safe work environment (16-20).
Napo illustrates this well in the following video: No Laughing Matter
At this point, you should be asking yourself if more can be done. The answer is a resounding yes!
The following systems or tools to assist the effective management of Health and Safety issues in the organization can be implemented.
Health and Safety Management System (POPIMAR)
- Policy – formal outline of the company’s position on Health and Safety in the workplace
- Organisational commitment to the plan – beginning at the executive level and filtering down
- Planning and Implementing how Health and Safety will work in the organization
- Measuring performance against set standards
- Audit performance; how compliant is the organization
- Review performance – are Health and Safety goals being achieved; if not, what needs to be done?
Risk Assessment System (DIPER)
Define what is being assessed; Identify hazards; People Affected; Evaluate Risks; Review and Monitor
Ultimately, hazards in the workplace can result in accidents, in particular slips and falls, which in turn can shatter the lives of individuals. The creation of a culture of safety, where there is a deep sense of awareness by all stakeholders and, commitment to the enforcement of safety and health regulations will all augur to a safer environment and certainly make a difference.
We invite you to share your trip, slip and fall stories with us. What caused it and how could it have been prevented? You would be surprised how simple the solution was.
Goetsch, David L. The Basics of Occupational Health and Safety. Prentice Hall, 2015. Print.
Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 amended 2006, Chapter 88:08
Available at: http://rgd.legalaffairs.gov.tt/laws2/alphabetical_list/lawspdfs/88.08.pdf
(Accessed 20 September 2014)
powershow.com: POPIMAR-powerpoint-ppt-presentation. Web. 24 September 2014.