As the physical therapist at Spectrum Physical Therapy and in industrial settings, my staff and I treat patients for a variety of aches and pains—including injuries resulting from slips, trips, and falls. They happen at work. They happen at home. Regardless of where they occur, they’re preventable.
How do falls happen? Sixty-five percent of falls occur when a person slips or trips while on a single “level,” such as a sidewalk, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The remaining 35 percent are falls from height. To understand what contributes to slips, trips, and falls so we can better avoid them and the injuries that often follow, it helps to understand what causes a slip or trip.
Slips: Where there is too little friction or traction between footwear and a walking surface, people slip. Sounds simple enough, yet there are many common causes:
- Wet or oily surfaces
- Shoes with a small sole surface, high heels, or leather bottoms instead of rubber bottoms
- Ice, snow, or rain
- Loose, unanchored rugs or mats
- Flooring or other walking surfaces that don’t have the same traction in all areas
Trips: When your foot hits something, you may lose your balance and possibly fall. Common causes are:
- Blocked view
- Poor lighting
- Wrinkled carpet
- Uncovered cables
- Bottom drawers left open
- Uneven steps, thresholds, or walking surfaces
So, what’s the best way to prevent falls due to slips and trips? Good housekeeping, quality walking surfaces, proper footwear, appropriate walking pace, and awareness of one’s surroundings are important steps to prevent falls.
Let’s get into some detail.
Good housekeeping is the first and the most important activity that helps prevent falls due to slips and trips. Good housekeeping includes:
- Cleaning spills immediately
- Marking spills and wet areas
- Mopping or sweeping debris from floors
- Removing obstacles from walkways and always keeping them free of clutter
- Securing (tacking, taping, etc.) mats, rugs, wires, and carpets that do not lay flat
- Always closing file cabinets or storage drawers
- Covering cables that cross walkways
- Keeping working areas and walkways well lit
- Replacing used light bulbs and faulty switches
Without good housekeeping practices, any other preventive measures such as sophisticated flooring, specialty footwear, or training on techniques will never be effective. Learn more about good housekeeping practices.
Changing or modifying walking surfaces is the next step to preventing slips and trips. Recoating or replacing floors; installing mats, pressure-sensitive abrasive strips, or abrasive-filled paint-on coating; and metal or synthetic decking can improve safety and reduce risk. It’s important to remember that high-tech flooring requires good housekeeping as much as any other flooring.
In workspaces where floors may be oily or wet or where workers spend considerable time outdoors, prevention of fall accidents should focus on proper footwear. Since there’s no footwear with the right anti-slip properties for every condition, consulting a manufacturers’ guidance is recommended. When there’s snow or ice, for example, wear wide-based rubber-soled shoes—not high heels or leather-bottomed shoes, which are slippery and have little surface to provide traction. Properly-fitted footwear increases comfort and helps prevent feet from getting tired, which, in turn, improves safety.
What if you need to cross a wet floor? What can you do to reduce the risk of slipping?
- Take your time and pay attention to where you’re going.
- Walk slowly.
- Adjust your stride to a length and pace that’s suitable for the walking surface—that means taking smaller steps when the surface is slippery.
- Walk with your feet pointed slightly outward—or, as some people say, “Walk like a duck!”
- Make wide turns at corners.
What if there are obstacles in your way, or you simply can’t see your path very well?
- Make sure lights are turned on.
- Use a flashlight if you enter a dark room where there is no light.
- Ensure that whatever you’re carrying or pushing does not prevent you from seeing obstructions, spills, etc.
There are many factors that increase your chances of falling. Fortunately, however, there are also many factors that can help you reduce that risk—if you pay attention and keep your head in the game. Think about the information in this article as you go about your normal activity around the Lab and print out this handy “Preventing Slips, Trip, and Falls” 1-Minute Safety Topic from the Safety Resources intranet.
Whether you’re navigating a stairwell or walking outside in snow or rain, by taking proper care you’ll reduce your risk for slips and trips, which will reduce your risk of a fall—and reduce your risk of injury. (Which may reduce the number of people who come to me for physical therapy, which is a good thing.)
Be safe and look out for each other’s safety, too.
Dr. Gary Welch, PT, CFCE, CFMT, CKTP, COMT