Slip, trip, and fall injuries happen both inside and outside the workplace. Below are things you can do to eliminate all three.
When it comes to employee safety when working outdoors, weather should always be a consideration. The effect that weather has on workplace accidents cannot be overstated. Wind, rain, and snow all play a part in increasing the frequency of several types of accidents and injuries.
Snow and ice raise special safety concerns because they increase the likelihood of slips and falls, particularly on stairs, ramps, slopes, parking lots, and steel. Tripping is also more likely as objects are covered or frozen in the ground, or imperfections, like holes, are hidden beneath the snow.
Accident studies indicate that almost 80% of slips and falls due to snow and ice happen in parking lots or on sidewalks. More than 50% happen in the morning between 6 a.m. and noon. A coordinated program to remove ice and snow before employees arrive at work, with continued removal throughout the day, best controls the hazards of slips and falls.
Snow and Ice Removal Programs
Pre-planning for snow and ice removal should be a top priority for facilities and maintenance teams during the winter months. It will take some research and forethought to forecast the weather and prepare for the snow. If outside contractors are used, the contract should be explicit about responsibilities, timing, and priorities.
The first step is to appoint someone to coordinate snow and ice removal and take charge of the program. The snow and ice removal coordinator should regularly monitor weather reports. On nights when it snows, the party responsible for snow and ice removal should arrive early enough to get the job done before employees arrive for normal shifts, but not so early as to allow additional snow accumulation.
Completely clear snow and ice off any walkways, stairways, and ramps, giving extra attention to areas frequented by the public. Stairs should have standard handrails and there should be good lighting on all sloped surfaces.
Moisture can track into facilities through entryways where tile and other surfaces get slippery and need special attention. Extra walk-off mats should be available and added during heavy snows. Replacement mats or a wet vacuum should be available if mats get saturated. Wet floor signs can also serve as a warning to employees and visitors about increased slip hazards.
Address decisions about when to plow parking lots in the snow and ice removal program. At a minimum, move snow in parking lots when it reaches a depth of three inches, but plowing when snow accumulates to a depth of one inch can help reduce cohesion of additional snow, especially if a de-icer is used.
Clear parking lots of snow and ice before employees arrive. Businesses that operate 24 hours a day may need to move cars during snow clearing operations to remove snow completely. If the parking lot must be plowed with cars already on it, the lot should be re-plowed when it is empty.
Snow should always be pushed to the low end of the lot, or as close to drains as possible, to reduce drainage, which can refreeze. Keep snow piles away from exits, which can obscure a driver’s view entering and exiting the lot.
De-icers and Abrasives
A combination of de-icers and/or abrasives will control ice. De-icers can be used alone or with abrasives for treating icy pavements. The chemicals used in de-icers accelerate melting and reduce freezing by lowering the temperature at which water will freeze to form ice. Abrasives provide traction to icy surfaces for both pedestrians and vehicles, and act as a carrier for the de-icer chemicals.
De-icers are generally salts, but there are various heat-generating chemicals as well. Water-soluble salts, such as sodium chloride and calcium chloride, are the most common de-icers. There are also de-icers that have special properties making them useful in certain situations. For example, some de-icers are less corrosive to metals or concrete and some are less damaging to plants. Check the manufacturer’s specifications for the uses and properties of the de-icer. Not only can de-icers be used to accelerate the melting of ice, but they can also be used on packed snow, making it easier to shovel or plow.
Many abrasives can be used to give traction on ice. Sand is the most common, but it is not unusual to use sawdust, ashes, fly ash, cinders, cat litter, or even rock quarry screenings. Abrasives are most effective when mixed with de-icer chemicals. The coarseness of the particles used is dependent on where it is used. A coarser particle can be rough to walk on and fine particles can be blown off the pavement by vehicle traffic. Different mixing ratios of salts (brine) to abrasives work for different temperatures (consult the manufacturer specifications).
If spreading de-icers and abrasives by hand, remember to wear proper gloves and eye protection. Lawn fertilizer spreaders work best for walkways and truck-mounted spreaders for parking lots.
- Consider using expanded metal or self-cleaning surfaces for treads on stairs in unprotected areas outside.
- During building construction, discuss the use of awnings or canopies over stairs and entryways. Buried heating systems have also become popular as a preventive tool for eliminating snow and ice buildup problems.
- Footwear is important. Rubber-soled shoes or boots are less likely to slip on icy surfaces than leather-soled shoes or high heels. Worn-out soles increase the hazard of slips.
- Pay particular attention to north-facing sides of buildings, which receive less sunlight and tend to stay frozen longer. Pre-planning to reduce north-facing building access and focusing more attention on snow and ice removal in these areas can go a long way in reducing slips and falls.
- Clean up the jobsite and exterior of the building daily. Trash and other stored materials can get covered with snow and frozen in place, increasing the risk of trips and falls.
- In the fall, before it snows, pay attention to filling potholes. Potholes can become buried by snow, increasing the likelihood of trips.
- Pay attention to roof drainage from buildings. Oftentimes, drainage may have to be cleaned and changed to reduce ice problems around walkways, stairs, and ramps.
- Keep access to drains, hydrants, utility shutoffs, sprinkler valves, and emergency equipment clear of snow piles as much as possible. Critical systems that should not be blocked can be flagged to remind parking lot maintenance workers to keep these areas clear of snow and ice.
- Paint is extremely slippery when wet. By adding sand or other abrasive to paint mixture, it allows the surface to have better traction.
Whether you work in an office or on a construction site, slip and fall hazards are present. The following are common slip/fall hazards and possible controls:
- Good lighting
- Use handrails
- No running
- Not a storage area
- Wet floors (kitchen, entryway, restrooms, etc.)
- Quickly identify
- Post signs
- Clean floor
- Proper floor mats (rugs, rubber mats, etc.)
- Use proper storage area
- Quickly clean up debris (boxes, tools, spills, etc.)
- Close drawers/file cabinets
- Organize/cover, move electrical cords
- Ladders/foot stools
- Do not stand on chairs, crates, shelves, or other objects. Use properly-rated stools and ladders to elevate yourself to reach an item or perform work.
- The height and type (A-frame, straight, etc.) of a ladder should be dictated by the situation and work to be performed.
- Uneven walking surface
- Repair the surface
- Properly cover surface
- Restrict access to the area
- Visually highlight surface and discuss hazard with employees
WCF Insurance Safety Department
NOTICE: This guide may make reference to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations; however the guide is not legal advice as to compliance with OSHA or other safety laws, codes, or regulations. Compliance with OSHA and other safety laws codes or regulations, and maintaining a safe work environment for your employees remains your responsibility. WCF Insurance does not undertake to perform the duty of any person to provide for the health or safety of your employees. WCF Insurance does not warrant that your workplace is safe or healthful, or that it complies with any laws, regulations, codes, or standards.