Workplace Fall Prevention
JERROLD J. SCHARNINGHAUSEN, Ph.D.
Workplace Safety Division
Directorate of Assessments and Prevention
U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center
Fort Rucker, Alabama
Falls are the leading cause of work-related injuries and fatalities in construction accidents nationwide and are ranked second in the general industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most work-related injuries and fatalities are on the decline. However, the number of fall-related injuries and fatalities is increasing, accounting for more than 13% of the total number of fatal work injuries. In the United States, approximately three fall-related fatalities occur each working day.
Identifying fall hazards and deciding how best to protect workers is the first step in reducing or eliminating these types of mishaps. People have fallen from considerable heights and received only a few broken bones, while others fall to the floor from a standing or sitting position and die from their injuries. Nearly all falls result from conditions or practices that seem obvious; however, preventing such accidents requires maintaining safe conditions in the workplace and training to ensure safe actions by employees. Housekeeping
Good housekeeping is the first and the most important fundamental level of preventing falls due to slips and trips. It includes cleaning all spills immediately; marking spills and wet areas; mopping or sweeping debris from floors; removing obstacles from walkways and always keeping walkways free of clutter; securing (tacking, taping, etc.) mats, rugs and carpets that do not lay flat; always closing file cabinet or storage drawers; covering cords and cables that cross walkways; and keeping working areas and walkways well lit and replacing burned-out light bulbs and faulty switches. Without good housekeeping practices, any other preventive measures such as the installation of sophisticated flooring, specialty footwear, or training on techniques of walking and safe falling will never be fully effective. Tripping and stumbling hazards
Trips happen when your foot collides with (strikes, hits) an object, causing you to lose your balance and eventually fall. Common causes of tripping are objects or materials in walkways; projecting parts of machines or equipment; equipment or material on stairs; scrap or waste materials; pipe or conduit set near floor level; extension cords, power cables, air hoses, welding cables, and fuel, gas and oxygen hoses; obstructed views; poor lighting; wrinkled carpeting; bottom drawers not being closed; and uneven (steps, thresholds) walking surfaces. Slipping hazards
Slips happen where there is too little friction or traction between the footwear and the walking surface. Common causes of slips are wet or oily surfaces; occasional spills; weather hazards; and loose, unanchored rugs or mats and flooring or other walking surfaces that do not have the same degree of traction in all areas. Unstable surfaces
Movement of vehicles during maintenance operations present a serious fall hazard. Chock blocks should be used whenever vehicles or trailers are parked or maintenance is being conducted. Ensure chock blocks are placed behind the tire in the direction of downslope travel. Remind Soldiers to make sure brakes are set, the engine is off, and at least one wheel is chocked during loading and unloading operations. Ensure parking brakes are serviceable, and report any brake malfunctions to maintenance personnel immediately. Working surfaces
Unnoticed changes in surface friction are implicated in many accidents. Going from a less slippery floor to a more slippery one produces slips; the opposite change produces trips and missteps. These unnoticed changes can be reduced by ensuring that different surface materials or coatings have transition zones between them, clearly marking any surface where friction changes, and using good housekeeping procedures to reduce changes in surface friction caused by spills, worn spots and loose or irregular floors.
These recommendations are of particular importance in manual materials handling, where any handling other than direct lifting involves horizontal inertial forces transmitted from the container to the body. Such forces require increased frictional forces to prevent foot slippage. Carrying weights also affects the body’s learned reflexes for recovering from a slip or trip. In such situations, the body’s normal weight distribution is altered and the arms are prevented from being used to regain balance or recover from another moving mass in close proximity to the falling operator. Stairways and ladders
Stairways and ladders are a major source of injuries and fatalities among workers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that there are 24,882 injuries and as many as 36 fatalities per year due to falls from stairways and ladders used in construction. Nearly half of these injuries are serious enough to require time off the job — 11,570 lost workday injuries and 13,312 non-lost workday injuries occur annually due to falls from stairways and ladders used in construction. This data demonstrates that work on and around ladders and stairways is hazardous. More importantly, it shows that compliance with OSHA requirements for the safe use of ladders and stairways could have prevented many of these injuries.
The OSHA rules apply to all stairways and ladders used in industry, alteration, repair (including painting and decorating), and demolition of worksites covered by OSHA safety and health standards. They also specify when stairways and ladders must be provided. They do not apply to ladders that are specifically manufactured for scaffold access and egress, but they do apply to job-made and manufactured portable ladders intended for general-purpose use that is then used for scaffold access and egress. Stair rails and handrails
Every flight of stairs having four or more risers must be equipped with standard stair railings or standard handrails. Handrails and the top rails of the stair rail systems must be capable of withstanding, without failure, at least 200 pounds of weight applied within 2 inches (5 cm) of the top edge in any downward or outward direction at any point along the top edge. The height of handrails must not be more than 37 inches (94 cm) or less than 30 inches (76 cm) from the upper surface of the handrail to the surface of the tread. Handrails must provide an adequate handhold for employees to grasp to prevent falls. The ends of stair rail systems and handrails must be constructed to prevent dangerous projections such as rails protruding beyond the end posts of the system. Conclusion
From an Army perspective, injuries to Soldiers and civilians sustained from falls can significantly impact resources and hinder mission capability. Protecting the workforce is a responsibility shared by everyone at all levels of the organization. However, it is you, the leader, who makes a unique contribution to job safety in that you are aware of the skills, physical condition, capabilities and limitations of your people. You know the job and have the authority to inspect, correct and direct. No one is in a better position to prevent accidental falls in the workplace than you.