by Michael Rich
January 25, 2012

Practical steps to prevent slips, trips and falls that commonly occur at construction jobsites.

 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2009 that falls resulted in 605 deaths and an estimated 212,760 injuries. And these injuries accounted for about one quarter of days away from work in the construction industry—a 12 percent increase from 2006. 

According to the 2009 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index, disabling workplace injuries from same-level falls in the United States had a direct cost of $6.2 billion in workers’ compensation costs in 2007.

The conditions leading to slip, trip and fall accidents can be observed and addressed, making them relatively easy to control. However, many construction companies and employees do not address these issues because they believe slips, trips and falls are a normal part of the workplace.

To properly address these hazards, employers must understand the causes and implement a prevention program. 

 

Construction Hazards

First identify all hazards in the construction workplace to properly control slips, trips and falls. Consider the following: 

Condition of walking in construction surfaces - Walking surfaces should be inspected for uneven surfaces; potholes; cracks; temporary bridges and walkways; changing elevations, routes and conditions; and curbing and muddy soil conditions. 

Environmental conditions - Water from rain, snow, ice and spills can result in treacherous conditions. Soft soil conditions and truck traffic can add to the difficulties. 

Obstructions - Construction workers must properly discard debris and move materials out of walkways to prevent trips. They should also move tools, cables, hoses and power cords.

People issues - Many tasks on a construction site require workers to carry materials and tools. Carrying heavy and awkward objects can affect a person’s balance, and wearing improper footwear or muddy shoes can also increase the potential for falls. Be sure employees wear appropriate footwear. Also, be aware of employees using prescription drugs because this can lead to increased slips, trips and falls.

Site coordination issues - Typically, multiple contractors work at a construction jobsite at the same time. This leads to groups of employees completely unaware of what others are doing, which results in workplace collisions. Pre-task planning and daily inspections can prevent these incidents. A prevention program should incorporate pre-task planning and risk mitigation. A person or team of employees should be assigned to implement the program.

 

Pre-plan

Follow these six steps to incorporate an effective pre-plan:

1. Establish safe access and egress routes around construction sites. 

2. Clearly mark access routes. 

3. Inform workers of any changes to access routes. 

4. Appoint individuals to regularly inspect and maintain access routes. 

5. Establish dedicated areas for laying down material, and create debris and snow removal plans. 

6. Develop formal written maintenance, inspection and training procedures to reduce accidents. Inspection and training procedures should address the following: 

Housekeeping (e.g., spill cleanup, daily debris/scrap removal, etc.) 

Equipment maintenance 

Stairs, ramps and handrails  

Fencing 

Walking surfaces and floor and wall openings 

Lighting 

Visitor personal protective equipment (PPE) 

Signage 

Ladders

Exposure control  

Train your employees on applicable hazard prevention methods. Use these ideas to address some of the common slip, trip and fall hazards.

 

Walkways 

Design walking/working surfaces to be level where possible. 

Identify uneven areas with high-visibility paint or signage.

Discuss any uneven surfaces with crew members before they begin work. 

Smooth transitions with inclined wedges where possible. 

Tape joints of all temporary floor coverings. 

Use an employee reporting process to identify problem areas and repair damage as quickly as possible, and remove the path if it cannot be repaired. 

 

Water on Floors  

Barricade areas of pooling water. 

Keep a squeegee in place for areas that typically gather water. 

Assign work in other areas if water cannot be immediately removed.

Look for ways to remedy the fill in, or use a moisture collection system.

 

Lighting 

Inspect workplace lights before each shift to be sure they work properly.

Use portable stand lights when possible, and do not place them in the path of potential foot traffic.

Make sure the intensity of the light source properly illuminates the working area. If you can immediately see the work area, the lighting is sufficient, but if you have to strain to see, increase the light intensity or number of lights.

 

Debris on Floor 

Establish a policy requiring employees to properly discard debris at set intervals.

Appoint a person to be in charge of housekeeping. This person should walk the workplace, remove debris from paths and conduct inspections. This does not require a full-time position and can be rotated among employees.

Make sure all employees can easily access trash receptacles, and ask them to pile debris in a central area where no work activity occurs.

Designate trash/scrap collection points clear of walkways and work areas. Placing scraps in the center of a room leaves walls clear.

Do not stage piping or other rolling material in walkways. 

 

Cords and Hoses in Walkways 

Run cords and hoses overhead if possible—use 2 x 4 archways when needed. 

Place cords and hoses to the side of the hall and taped down if you cannot run them overhead.

Avoid running cords and hoses through ladders or near stairways in all instances. 

 

 

Changing the culture

You must constantly make your employees aware of the dangers from slips, trips and falls. Hold weekly meetings on specific trip hazards and how to address those issues. Incorporate real-world accidents to drive home the importance of workplace safety.

 

 

 

Photos above are examples of 

unsafe work practices: 

 

A. Workers should only walk on designated pathways. 

 

B. A temporary ramp with unstable ramp supports could be a potential trip hazard due to the difference in the ramp height and platform; the rebar pile near the ramp exit is another trip hazard; and the walkway in the background does not have a guardrail. 

 

C. Unsafe practices at an excavation and shoring operation, including a potential slip or trip hazard for the jackhammer operator working at the top of the pile and the equipment operator using the excavator near the other workers.