With winter just around the corner, there comes a heightened risk for slips, trips, and falls. These incidents can and do happen year-round, however, and with the increase in rain, and in some instance frost and ice, the risk of a fall increases significantly.

No matter what industry or work people do, slips, trips and falls (STFs) are an ever present danger. Within Australia, STFs result in thousands of injuries every year. Most common are musculoskeletal injuries, as well as cuts, bruises, fractures and dislocations, though there is the potential for more severe injuries resulting in seminar disability and even death.

SafeWork Australia’s Key Work Health and Safety Statistics, Australia, 2013 shows that STFs are the second leading cause of workplace injuries at 21.2 per cent. These incidents frequently result in severe injuries requiring extensive and expensive recovery and lost time. STFs were also identified as a priority injury mechanism in the National OHS Strategy 2002–2012, and the proportion of injury claims due to STFs have changed slightly changed since the Strategy began.

A further relatively recent study by the Monash University Accident Research Centre regarding the incidence of STFs and their relationship to the design and construction of buildings found that STFs in buildings constitute a large and costly public health problem, one that is expected to grow due to the ageing of the Australian population as well as the increase in housing density associated with multi-storey dwellings.

STFs are usually defined with the following delineations:

  • Slips occur when a person’s foot loses traction with the floor. The most common causes are slippery floor surfaces (eg, highly polished, wet or greasy) and inappropriate footwear.
  • Tripping occurs when a person unexpectedly catches their foot. In most instances, the objects people trip on are small and unobtrusive, such as cracks in the floor or electrical leads.
  • Falls can result from a slip or trip, but many occur during falls from low heights, such as steps, stairs and curbs.

It has long been recognised that management of issues relating to health and safety is an integral part of sound business practice and that careful selection and use of appropriate footwear and flooring can substantially reduce the risk of STF accidents. Employers, building owners, persons who have control of a workplace and designers should be aware of their accountability for hazards relating to STFs, including floor quality, cleaning, housekeeping, machinery and equipment, lighting, ramps, stairs, and drainage.

Australian work place health and safety legislation obligates the aforementioned parties to manage the risks associated with STFs by either eliminating them, and if that is not reasonably practicable, minimising them.

Examples of possible control strategies can include:

  • Elimination: Designers can eliminate STF hazards at the design stage by understanding who the end users will be, removing changes in floor levels and redesigning thorough fares away from wet areas and installing more power outlets to avoid trailing cords.
  • Substitution: Replace existing flooring with a more slip-resistant surface.
  • Isolation: Prevent access to high risk areas, for example cordon off wet floor areas while cleaning is in progress.
  • Engineering controls (redesign): Apply floor treatments to increase slip resistance, improve lighting, and marking edges of steps and changes in floor levels.
  • Administrative controls: Implement housekeeping regimes, use signage to warn of wet or slippery areas, and by also providing training and supervision,
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): supply PPE such as slip-resistant footwear.

While there are a number of factors that contribute to the occurrence and prevalence of STFs starting with the design phase and running through the entire life cycle of the building, a simple yet effective control that can be explored is the introduction of a dress policy focusing on footwear.

Given the enormous cost STFs present, investment in effective preventative solutions is necessary. A key way forward in reducing the effect of STF accidents can be through the introduction of solutions and mitigation strategies early that are readily available from within the design and construction industry and its regulators.

By: Andrew Angelides