Winter Weather Fall Prevention
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. In the medical field, many are conditioned to think of fall prevention programs as being geared towards preventing patient falls. These programs are very important since slips and falls can cause very serious injuries to patients. In fact, falls are the leading cause of accidental death for the elderly and should be taken seriously. However, we must also begin protecting ourselves so we can provide care to those who need us most.
According to the Bureau of Labor and statistics data for 2014, there were 247,120 significant injuries in the workplace due to slips, trips, and falls (STF) in the United States. What is even more shocking is that 818 workplace fatalities were due to STF accidents (https://www.bls.gov).
Slips and falls happen year round. Unfortunately, these incidents increase during the winter and spring months when thawing and freezing occurs. 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 both 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 the prevention of falls; due to the fact that improper footwear is attributed 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. For extra protection on icy surfaces, wear ice boots or use shoe coverings that are available at sporting goods and hardware stores. It should be noted that many of these products are not safe to be worn indoors and should be removed upon entering a building.
Many of the winter weather slips and falls occur as people first exit their vehicles or as they 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. This 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 short cuts.
- Plan your route thoughtfully.
- Watch for trip hazards, such as cracks in 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, patients, and visitors are all at risk for falls. Therefore, all employees should be trained on increasing awareness to slip, trip, and fall hazards and be encouraged to take personal responsibility to keep themselves and others safe.
Theresa Parish is an occupational therapist and a Ready Associate for the Ready Approach. She is an Ergonomics and Loss Control Specialist/Sensory Processing Specialist with RAS.