It’s not the fall that kills you … it’s hitting the ground

It’s not the fall that kills you … it’s hitting the ground

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, OKLA. — The laws of physics are frequently ignored in any given movie story, with someone taking a plunge from a great height being probably the most frequent offender.

Writers tend to forget that it’s not the fall that kills you … it’s the sudden stop at the end. Or to put it another way, your velocity can’t hurt you, until you try to change it.

It’s probably happened to most of us. That momentary lapse of inattention thinking about a personal problem or distracted by an activity that ends in a slip, trip or fall. A stumble down a stairway. A trip over an uneven surface.

Slipping on the ice. It can lead to a variety of regrettable events ranging from a simple bruised shin to an extremely serious injury and long-term pain. It’s just one small sample of a variety of conditions and situations that set the stage for slips, trips and falls in the workplace.

Falls are a persistent hazard found in all occupational settings. A fall can occur during the simple act of walking or climbing a ladder to change a light fixture, or as a result of a complex series of events affecting a worker 20 to 80 feet above the ground.

According to the 2009 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 605 United States workers were killed and an estimated 212,760 workers were seriously injured by falls to the same or lower level. 

Circumstances associated with fall incidents in the work environment frequently involve slippery, cluttered or unstable walking/working surfaces; unprotected edges; floor holes and wall openings; unsafely positioned ladders; and misused (or unused) fall protection.

Federal regulations and industry consensus standards provide specific measures and performance-based recommendations for fall prevention and protection. However, persistent unsafe practices and low safety culture across many industries define steady fall injury rates each year. 

Let’s examine two main types workplaces to see where we can get into trouble:

The administrative workplace

A job where most of the work tasks are completed while sitting in a chair in a climate-controlled office building would seem less fraught with danger. However, a surprising number of hazards can be present in any given office setting. 

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 80,410 private-industry office and administrative workers suffered on-the-job injuries in 2008. Many of these injuries could have been prevented had workers or supervisors recognized the risks and implemented simple workplace modifications to help mitigate them.

In the United States’ general office environment, slips, trips and falls, the most common type of office injury, sidelined 25,790 workers in 2008, according to the BLS.

The National Safety Council says employees are 2.5 times more likely to suffer a disabling fall in an office setting than anywhere else. Several hazards contribute to these injuries, although most can be significantly reduced.

• Clutter: Boxes, files and various items piled in walkways can create a tripping hazard, according to OSHA. Be certain that all materials are safely stored in their proper location to prevent buildup of clutter in walkways. Further, in addition to posing an electrical hazard, stretching cords across walkways or under rugs creates a tripping hazard, so ensure all cords are properly secured and covered.

• Standing on chairs — particularly rolling office chairs — is a significant fall hazard. Workers who need to reach something at an elevated height should use a stepladder. The Chicago-based American Ladder Institute cautions that stepladders must be fully opened and placed on level, firm ground. Workers should never climb higher than the step indicated as the highest safe standing level. 

• Maintain a clear line of vision: Workers can collide when making turns in the hallways and around blind corners or cubicle walls. The National Safety Council suggests installing convex mirrors at intersections to help reduce collisions. If workers can see who is coming around the corner, collisions are less likely to occur.

• Get a grip: Carpeting and other skid-resistant surfaces can serve to reduce falls. Marble or tile can become very slippery — particularly when wet, according to the National Safety Council. Installing carpet can be especially helpful at entranceways, where workers are likely to be coming in with shoes wet from rain or snow.

• Shut the drawer: File cabinets with too many fully extended drawers could tip over if they are not secured, the council warns. Open drawers on desks and file cabinets also pose a tripping hazard, so be sure to always completely close drawers when not in use.

• Control individual behavior: This condition is the toughest to control. It’s human nature to let our guard down for two seconds and be distracted by random thoughts or doing multiple activities.

Being in a hurry results in walking too fast or running, which increases the chances of a slip, trip or fall. Taking shortcuts, not paying attention, using a cellphone (texting or talking), carrying materials that obstruct the vision, wearing sunglasses in low-light areas, not using designated walkways and speed are common elements in many on-the-job injuries.

It’s ultimately up to each individual to plan, stay alert and pay attention.

The industrial workplace

Thanks to comprehensive injury prevention programs, today’s industrial work environment is generally safer than ever before. Despite extensive safety measures, accidents can, and still do, occur at any time.

According to the National Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, almost 6,000 American employees are killed on the job each year. Another 50,000 die from illnesses caused by exposure to hazardous or unsafe working conditions, and 6 million sustain nonfatal workplace injuries. These incidents have a massive impact on all industries, costing businesses billions of dollars every year.

To prevent dangerous falls in the industrial workplace, examine work areas carefully to uncover hazardous conditions before employees ever step foot near them. Address obvious hazards with safety railings, harnesses, ropes, nets or scaffolding.

Routinely check these safety measures to make sure they are in good functioning order. If any unsafe conditions develop, do not wait to fix them. Prioritize safety and take care of them immediately, and do not allow any employees near the work area until the hazard is removed.

Take preventative measures against falls by ensuring proper lighting throughout the workspace. The easier it is to see, the less chance of a misstep or accidental fall. Staircases should be well-lit and completely free of any obstacles.

Make an effort to educate workers about safety in the workplace. Use appropriate signage in higher-risk areas, and make sure employees are well-trained in the proper use of safety equipment.

Creating good housekeeping practices is the first step in starting a slip, trip and fall prevention program. Good housekeeping is critical. Safety and housekeeping go hand-in-hand. If the facility’s housekeeping habits are poor, the result may be a higher incidence of injuries, ever-increasing insurance costs and regulatory citations.

If an organization’s facilities are noticeably clean and well-organized, it is a good indication that its overall safety program is effective as well.

Proper housekeeping is a routine. It is an ongoing procedure that is simply done as a part of each worker’s daily performance. To create an effective housekeeping program, there are three simple steps to get you started

• Plan ahead: Know what needs to be done, who’s going to do it and what the particular work area should look like when you are done.

• Assign responsibilities: It may be necessary to assign a specific person or group of workers to clean up, although personal responsibility for cleaning up after himself/herself is preferred.

• Implement a program: Establish housekeeping procedures as a part of the daily routine.

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