Watch Your Step

Soft tissue injuries are very painful, and it takes a long time to heal from them. In addition to pain, they also can cause frustration and emotional distress. Big medical bills and a loss of wages may be covered by workers’ compensation, but that doesn’t reduce pain or cover lost overtime, and it certainly doesn’t compensate for lost family time or time away from outdoor pursuits, among other things. If slips and falls happen at home, workers’ compensation doesn’t help at all. Often, these types of injuries are self-inflicted, perhaps the result of rushing or not paying attention. So, it’s important to keep your eyes open and stay focused on one thing at a time.

When working outdoors, slip-and-fall hazards can include wet or icy ground and uneven or unstable terrain. Indoors, slick floors and objects in walkways – among other things – can be hazardous.

There are practical preventive measures. To avoid slips and falls, always be on the lookout for foreign substances on walkways. These could be natural substances, such as water, ice, snow or mud, or other substances, such as grease, oil, litter or tools. Understand that even a small amount of any of these items can be enough to take you down. Be proactive. If you see equipment or supplies left in a walkway, do your part and remove them. Don’t expect or depend on someone else to do it. Signage indicating the locations of hazardous areas are sometimes posted, but not always, which means you need to look out for yourself and others. Also, save running for the track. Running at work just brings about hazards more quickly, and you have less time to recognize them.  

Working at height is a normal occurrence in our industry. OSHA mandates fall protection when working or walking at an unprotected elevation of 4 feet or 6 feet, depending on the application. The elevation increases to 10 feet for workers in approved scaffolds. Falls involve kinetic energy, meaning that your weight and the distance of the fall increase the impact force. That impact force can be hundreds of pounds for a short fall up to thousands of pounds for a longer fall. That’s why the results of a fall often involve internal bleeding, external injuries and even death.

Following are some other tips and items to keep in mind to prevent slip-and-fall injuries on the job:

  • Employee training is critical. Employers are obligated to provide training to workers based on the hazards they may encounter in the line of duty, including training to prevent slips and falls.
  • Walk only in designated areas where it is safe to do so, and pay close attention to where you’re walking. Taking shortcuts through areas with equipment and moving vehicles is an invitation for accidents to happen.
  • When using a ladder to climb, be sure to use one in good condition that has a proper height/length for the task. Keep it placed on a firm surface with the ladder’s base 1 foot away from the wall for every 4 feet of height. Make sure the ladder extends 3 feet above the landing and is properly tied off. Do not overreach while on the ladder; you should always have control of your balance. Additionally, use three points of contact while climbing, which means never climbing a ladder with your hands full. Use a tool belt or handline to lift tools to the work area.
  • When using a scaffold, be sure it is properly assembled according to the manufacturer’s specifications. Check it carefully for defects before anyone uses it. Standing and working planks should be level and clean. Use toe boards to prevent workers from slipping and tools from falling.
  • Remember that your eyes are your best defense against slip-and-fall incidents. Watch your step and look where you are going. Lastly, follow the 20/20/20 rule of thumb: every 20 minutes, take 20 seconds to recognize the hazards within 20 feet.

In closing, while slips and falls occur every day, the extent of a worker’s injuries and the recurrence of these types of incidents can be minimized through proper safety training and work practices.

About the Author: Luis Ortega, CUSP, previously worked for Northline Utilities LLC as a safety specialist. Prior to assuming his last role, he retired from Consolidated Edison Co. of New York after a 30-year career. Ortega holds a technical certificate from Power Technologies Inc. and earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from The City College of New York. He can be reached at [email protected].

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