Preventing Slips and Trips in the Office

05/16/2011

Several years ago when I was living and working in the Washington, D.C., area, it rained for something like 35 days straight one spring. This turned my daily commute into a newfangled triathlon: First there was the sprint to catch the train (which, if I’m being honest, was a result of my running late and not the weather), followed by a full-body-contact swim up the sidewalk to my office building, and concluding with a skate across the wet, marble floor from the entrance to the elevator.

And while that last event could be downright embarrassing at times (Scott Hamilton would have cringed at my performance), at least it didn’t result in injury. Not all workers are so lucky.

According to the web site of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), slips, trips and falls make up the majority of general industry accidents. While falls from ladders and other heights can be disabling and even fatal, such accidents are rare and are usually limited to certain industries, such as construction. Falls on same-level walking surfaces, or slips and trips, are much more common—and they can result in serious injuries, and even death, as well.

In my case, it was a wet floor that threatened to take my feet out from under me. Other causes of slips and trips include oily or polished floors, cluttered work environments, and loose carpeting or mats.

When falls occur in the workplace, it’s not just employees who get hurt. The company may experience increased absenteeism, decreased productivity, higher health care costs and more workers’ compensation claims.

In addition to having a compelling business reason for preventing slips and trips in the office, employers also have a legal obligation. The Occupational Safety and Health Act’s General Duty Clause requires employers to furnish a place of employment that is free from recognized hazards.

The good news is that slips and trips generally can be prevented. Sometimes the remedy is as simple as keeping aisles and hallways clear, providing adequate lighting, or smoothing carpets and mats that have become bunched. OSHA and others offer these additional housekeeping tips:

  • Keep floors clean and dry. Wet floors can be a slip hazard; spills should be cleaned up immediately. I’ve seen a lot of things on office floors that shouldn’t be there—water from dripping umbrellas, spilled coffee, and liquids I couldn’t identify but definitely didn’t want to step in. Wet mops can be invaluable; some mops are designed to absorb 5.5 times their weight in water.
  • Use signs to alert employees when floors are wet. Brightly colored, multi-sided signs and cones will catch employees’ attention. Consider using signs that can be read from 30 feet away and that announce the hazard in different languages if that is appropriate for your workforce.
  • Provide dry places to stand, such as floor mats, in areas where the floor is likely to be wet. An example is at building entrances, where people can track rain or snow in from outside. Mats with 100% Nitrile rubber backings provide increased slip and skid resistance. I’m certain such mats have saved me from landing flat on my back a number of times. Durable scraper mats placed just outside entrances can also help prevent slips. The scraper mats sold by U-NEED-IT.com have been certified slip-resistant by the National Floor Safety Institute.

Businesses that follow these tips and use these products help to ensure their employees’ safety. Because let’s face it: Not many people can land a triple Lutz.

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