In the days of Vaudeville, pratfalls were a potential occupational hazard that actors were willing to embrace because elaborate falls brought laughs to thousands of people. Today slips, trips and fall to the same level are a much more serious matter. In fact, they are the second leading cause (after overexertion) of workplace injuries.
Floor safety hazards may not be quite as easy to spot as a banana peel on a stage floor, but they aren’t completely illusive. Just as actors added their own individual flare to pratfalls, there’s more than one way to spot floor safety hazards.
1. Conduct a Formal Audit
Comprehensive safety audits are not uncommon in workplaces. Although they can be time-consuming, they are a proven way to uncover unsafe conditions, variations from standard operating procedures, areas that are in need of preventative maintenance and a host of other issues that need to be addressed to prevent the risk of employee injuries or illnesses.
However, many traditional safety audits don’t focus on or even include floor safety issues. With the issuance of OSHA’s revised walking-working surface regulation in 2016, this is beginning to change. Formal floor safety audits are not required, but facilities must inspect all walking-working surfaces “regularly and as necessary” [29 CFR 1910.22(d)(1)]. Inspections are, of course, not as encompassing as a full audit, but conducting an audit will help to uncover issues that may need to be addressed during regular inspections.
Floor safety audits may be conducted internally or externally by a formally trained walkway auditor. The National Floor Safety Institute maintains a list of certified walkway auditors who can conduct floor safety audits to help determine whether walking surfaces are likely to contribute to a slip and fall incident.
2. Review Incident Reports
Incident reports are a lagging indicator, but in many cases, they can help to pinpoint areas where slips, trips and falls have occurred and therefore may reoccur at the facility if left unchecked. If, for example, several slip and fall injuries are happening at the loading dock, rather than focusing on the floor in the boardroom which is in decent shape and is only used once a month, it would make sense to focus attention on identifying and eliminating the hazards at the loading dock that are causing harm before another employee is injured in that area.
Like audit results, using the information from incident reports can help anyone doing routine inspections to know specifically what to look for in various areas of a facility. It can also make supervisors more aware of risks so that they can be monitored between inspections.
3. Follow the Liquids
Liquids typically arrive at facilities in drums, cans and many other types of containers. They can also arrive in bulk shipments that are stored in tanks. Use a floor plan to track where and how liquids arrive, and where they go after their arrival. For liquids in containers, they may be taken from the loading dock and stored in a warehouse before being taken to an area where they are dispensed for use. After they are used, the spent liquids may be collected and stored again before being shipped for recycling or disposal.
Fluids that arrive in bulk usually flow through the facility in pipelines, but they take a similar path: storage in a tank, piping to the area where they are dispensed; then they’re transferred into a collection tank or container when spent. When liquids stay in their tanks, pipes, or containers, they don’t present a slip and fall hazard. However, leaks and drips are common and can create unexpected floor safety hazards.
Identifying areas where fluids are stored and transferred, and stocking spill response materials in these areas enables employees to quickly clean up small leaks, drips and spills as they happen so that they don’t present a slip and fall risk.
4. Sponsor a Contest
Employees are an excellent resource for finding floor safety hazards. They know which floors are slippery. They know where they stubbed their toes on an uneven surface. They know which soap dispenser in the bathroom leaks onto the floor and where condensate drips from pipes in the production area.
Common floor safety issues may be overlooked because they’ve been around for ages and no one has given them much thought. Sponsoring a contest for employees to submit floor safety hazards can bring these problems to light so that they can be corrected. In this way, a contest can sometimes be as effective as a formal audit, but it takes less time and resources.
5. Ask Vendors for Advice
Small changes may be all that are needed to make walking surfaces safer. This is often the case with floor cleaning and floor care products. If the facility has been operational for a while, there is a good chance that not much thought goes into floor care. The chemicals, tools and products used to clean the floor are often the ones that have been used since the building opened, and they are simply reordered as needed.
Floor care vendors are a great resource for new technologies and products that can help increase the coefficient of friction for nearly every type of flooring, making it safer and easier to maintain. They can also verify that the right products are being used for the types of flooring in the facility, and that each is being used correctly to maintain the floors. Simple changes in the amount of cleaning chemical used or the method used to clean a floor can also make it more slip-resistant and safer for everyone.
6. Enlist Insurance Carriers
Because slips, trips and falls to the same level are the second leading cause of workplace injuries, insurance carriers see a lot of claims for these types of injuries. These claims are costly for them to reimburse, so they have a vested interest in helping employers to minimize them.
Most insurance carriers can provide information, inspection checklists and training to help facilities identify and eliminate slip, trip and fall hazards. Some will even help conduct floor safety audits at little or no cost.
In summary, whether your facility is ready to tackle a comprehensive audit or there are only time and resources to hit the one area where incidents have traditionally occurred, slip, trip and fall hazards can be identified and eliminated, minimizing risk and the potential for injuries.
Karen Hamel, CSP, WACH, is a regulatory compliance professional and technical writer with New Pig Corp., a provider of solutions that help companies manage leaks, drips and spills.