Winter Slips & Falls
An Often Overlooked Hazard
by Elizabeth Diesel, Midwest Builders' Casualty
Winter can present multiple challenges for your business. Poor weather conditions can create problems with production and employee safety. With all of the challenges winter presents employers and employees often overlook the most obvious of hazards – slips and falls due to ice and snow. This past winter was especially difficult and the result was a record number of slip and fall injuries due to ice and snow. While many people might believe that slips and falls are not serious accidents, they are in fact the second leading cause of injury behind automobile accidents. These highly preventable slip and fall accidents caused serious injuries with medical expense and lost wages totaling over a half million dollars. It is important to note that these injuries were not just limited to field employees, as both office and shop personnel were impacted. Companies often forget the exposures that shop and office personnel have associated with their daily activities.
Use the below suggestions to help keep yourself and your employees safe this winter.
Office and Jobsite:
- Keep adequate supplies of snow and ice removal tools in accessible areas.
- Shovel and apply ice melt as necessary to keep walking areas clean and dry.
- Watch for areas where ice tends to accumulate and promptly apply ice melt to prevent buildup.
- Provide good lighting and clear pathways into the office and shop areas from the parking lot.
- Clearly identify steps, ramps and elevation changes that might not be visible in snowy conditions.
- Consider contracting with a snow removal company to keep your parking lot and yard areas clear of snow and ice.
-- If you have your own employees do this work make sure that they are properly protected from potential slip and fall exposures – proper shoes, equipment, training.
- Place appropriate anti-slip mats or material on floors in areas where employees are entering your offices or shop.
- Set standards for the condition of your parking lot and pathways that include appropriate footwear and gear required in addition to the procedures for clearing the pathways and parking lot.
- Define employee roles in preventing slips and falls due to winter weather conditions in addition to determining who is responsible for clearing the parking lot and pathways and ensuring that they are adequately trained to safely perform the required functions.
- Communicate your program and requirements to all of your employees.
Personal Safety Tips:
- Test for potentially slick areas with your foot before proceeding.
- Concentrate on the path ahead -- take your time and proceed slowly.
- Wear appropriate footwear -- wear shoes or boots with rough (waffled, ridged or heavily textured) soles to work and change into dress shoes if you must wear them. The inconvenience of changing shoes is insignificant compared to the inconvenience due to a serious fall related injury.
- Use handrails when available – a secure handhold can help prevent a fall if you should slip.
- When walking on ice or snow-covered walkways, take short steps and walk at a slower pace.
- Bending your knees and taking slow short steps increases traction.
- Check to be sure entrances and stairs are clear of snow and slush -- tracked in snow and slush often cause slips and falls.
- Beware of changes in walking surfaces that may be hidden due to snow.
- Always clean your shoes when you go inside.
- Cleared streets and sidewalks should still be approached with caution. Look out for "black ice" as it often shows up early in the morning or in shaded areas.
- Try to keep both arms free for balance and avoid carrying heavy items.
- Use special care when entering and exiting vehicles – use the vehicle for support.
If You Slip:
- Be prepared to fall and try to avoid using your arms to break your fall. If you fall backward, make a conscious effort to tuck your chin so your head doesn't strike the ground.
- Try to roll with the fall if you begin to fall forward.
- Try to sit down if you begin to fall backward. When a falling person relaxes, an injury is less severe than when he/she tenses. Fighting a fall on ice can cause twisting or bending injuries which may be worse than the bump the fall would have produced.