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Winter Weather Fall Prevention

By: Theresa Parish OTR/L, CEES, Ergonomics and Loss Control Specialist with RAS

Most of us think of falls as embarrassing. If we fall and are not hurt, we look around in hopes no one has seen us. We don’t often think of fall prevention.

According to the Bureau of Labor and statistics data for 2019, there were 244,000 significant injuries in the workplace due to slips, trips, and falls (STF) in the United States. This accounts for 27.5 percent of nonfatal injuries and illnesses. “Fatal injuries resulting from falls, slips, and trips experienced the largest increase from 2018, with 89 more cases reported in 2019.”

Slips and falls happen year-round. Unfortunately, these incidents increase when thawing and freezing occur during the winter and spring months. Outdoor walking surface irregularities and weather conditions, such as ice and snow, are among NIOSH’s Top Ten Hazards that cause STF injuries. They are a leading cause of workers’ compensation costs and affect the workplace and the injured worker in many ways, such as lost productivity, lost wages, pain, disability, and possible death. Many of these incidents are preventable.

Personal responsibility goes a long way in preventing falls because improper footwear contributes to 24% of all slip and fall injuries. All staff members should be encouraged to wear proper footwear, such as snow boots while carrying their indoor footwear in a bag. Wear ice boots or use shoe coverings available at sporting goods and hardware stores for extra protection on icy surfaces. Please note that many of these products are not safe to wear indoors, so remove them upon entering a building.

Many of the winter weather slips and falls occur as people first exit their vehicles or walk to and from their workplace. Using the rule of maintaining three points of contact when exiting or entering your vehicle can be a life-saver.

Other great tips to prevent winter falls include:

  • Sprinkle sand near your car before stepping out or in.
  • Use a shaker bottle to sprinkle sand in front of you as you walk. Doing so will improve traction and decrease fall risk for you and everyone who walks in the same path later.
  • Slow down, walk flat-footed, and use a wide stance when walking on potentially icy surfaces.
  • Use extra caution near melt runoff areas as water may have re-frozen.
  • Walk across designated areas only; avoid taking shortcuts.
  • Plan your route thoughtfully.
  • Watch for trip hazards, such as cracks in the pavement, debris, or ice chunks.
  • Avoid carrying items in front of you.
  • Use handrails whenever available.
  • Wipe shoes well when coming in from wet or slushy conditions. Wet boots or shoes can make smooth surfaces very slick during any of the four seasons.
  • In snowy/slushy conditions, the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI) recommends 10-12 walking steps on a floor mat before stepping onto a smooth surface. Ensure that your rugs are long enough.
  • Stomp/wipe feet in place many times before stepping off the mat.
  • Be aware of conditions and take appropriate measures.
  • Report slick or icy areas of concern. Chances are that if you slipped or almost slipped, the next person may too!

Be aware that employees and visitors are all at risk for falls. Therefore, you should train all employees on increasing awareness to slip, trip, and fall hazards and be encouraged to take personal responsibility to keep themselves and others safe.