Finding Slip, Trip, and Fall Hazards Before They Cause Accidents

With staff, faculty, and students on college campuses wearing every type of shoe from flip-flops to stiletto heels—and with attention diverted by conversations, cell phones or music— there is little wonder why slip-and-fall accidents are increasing.

Obviously, facility managers and administrators have little control over the types of shoes people wear or what they do while walking between classes or across campus. It is, however, possible to make walking surfaces safer so that the opportunities for slips, trips and falls are reduced or eliminated.

It is true that footwear, lack of lighting, and many different types of distractions figure into slip, trip, and fall incidents. However, the primary causes of more than half of all incidents are faults with walking surfaces. These problems can range from defects that develop over time, like cracks and uneven surfaces to winter weather conditions that blanket everything with a slick sheet of ice.

Identifying Risks

Incident or injury reports can provide details about where slip, trip or fall accidents have happened in the past, and may help to prioritize which areas need attention first, especially if multiple incidents have occurred in the same area. But they don’t tell the whole story. Just because someone hasn’t been injured in a particular area doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s safe.

Slips, trips, and falls can happen anywhere people walk. Parking lots, sidewalks, cafeterias, classrooms, hallways, bathrooms, lobbies, and patios are all possibilities. Conducting a full-scale audit to identify risks throughout an entire campus may seem overwhelming, but it is possible to scale the scope down if multiple areas have similarities. For example, if all of the flooring in a building is the same, and rooms are used for similar purposes, evaluating one area (choose the area with the highest traffic) should provide a fairly accurate picture of floor-safety hazards in that building.

Paying Attention During Risk Audits

As risk audits are being conducted, pay particular attention to flooring or pavement in areas that may become wet, dusty or dirty. People generally don’t fall on dry floors or pavement. They fall when something has spilled or accumulated on a walking surface. Spilled food and beverages, powders and granules, fallen leaves, and cut grass are all examples of things that end up on walking surfaces and can make them slippery.

Consider how changes in weather affect the conditions of sidewalks, parking lots, building entrances and lobbies. While the audit is being conducted, take notes of any tools, equipment and products such as entrance matting that are used to keep walkways clear and dry.

Eliminating Hazards

It is common to find similar hazards existing in multiple areas. For example, if one building entrance is slippery when it rains, chances are good that the same condition is present in many entrances. Look for these similarities because the same solution may work in multiple areas. Solutions don’t need to be elaborate or expensive. In fact, low-cost solutions and minor changes are often all that is necessary to make significant improvements.

To improve parking lots and sidewalks, procedures should include preventative maintenance tasks to eliminate or quickly repair uneven surfaces and deep cracks. Improved landscaping and grounds-keeping plans may include provisions for keeping grass cuttings, fallen leaves, branches, and other obstructions out of walkways, sidewalks and entrances as well as specific procedures for prompt snow and ice removal throughout the day. Plans may also include designating primary walkways to clear first during cold weather months.

Replacing entrance matting with carpet tiles or adhesive-backed absorbent matting, providing an area for wet umbrellas, and having wet floor signs and floor-level fans are all changes that can be put in place to make these entrances and lobbies safer. Providing canopies and exterior matting outside each entrance can also help to minimize the amount of rain, snow, dirt, and mud that tracked into buildings.

Identifying Areas Prone to Spills

Cafeterias, common areas, restrooms and laundry facilities are all prone to spills that can make floors unsafe. While it is true that there are people who will just leave the spill for someone else to clean up, many people will clean up after themselves if they can quickly and easily find clean-up products. Stocking paper towels, absorbents, wet floor cones, Photo courtesy New Pig vacuums, or other appropriate items can help to encourage good housekeeping in these areas and minimize slippery floors.

Reviewing routine floor cleaning schedules and procedures can improve both the safety and the attractiveness of floors in many different areas. Work with cleaning chemical suppliers to determine if the correct cleaning chemicals are being used for the types of flooring present in each area or building.

After choosing the correct type of cleaner or cleaners, develop specific procedures for floor cleaning that outline the use of clean water at the correct temperature, the specific amount of chemical to be used, and the frequency and timing of cleanings.

Maintaining Safe Conditions

Fixing current problems and establishing plans and procedures that work now will not ensure that slips, trips, and falls never happen in the future. Identifying floor and walkway hazards is an ongoing process. All walking surfaces age over time, and—although changing and improving cleaning procedures can have immediate, positive results on floors now—all floors, sidewalks, and parking lots will eventually need to be replaced or resurfaced.

Changes to the design or use of buildings, increased or decreased traffic, and other conditions may also necessitate changes to walkway safety plans or cleaning procedures. Conducting audits quarterly, semi-annually or at least annually can help to identify changes that may have gone unreported and identify new issues that may have arisen since the last audit. Audit results can also provide a snapshot of how each area has improved over time or identify areas that may need more attention in the near future.

Uncovering slip, trip, and fall hazards involves more than just looking at areas where accidents have happened. It also includes looking for areas where these accidents could also occur and putting the right plans, procedures, and tools in place to either eliminate the hazard or quickly remove it when it is present.

About the Author
Karen D. Hamel, CSP, WACH, is a regulatory compliance professional, trainer and technical writer for New Pig. She has more than 24 years of experience helping EHS professionals. She conducts seminars, webinars and trainings for a variety of national organizations. She can be reached at 1-800-HOT-HOGSR (468-4647) or by emailing