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Slipping and Stumbling

Slipping and Stumbling

Slipping is often caused by wet floors (inside) or slipperiness (outside).

A person slips when the friction coefficient between the sole and the floor suddenly decreases and the upper body does not reach up with the legs when in motion. This results in falling backwards. However, people mostly slip because the ground surface is wet.

Slipping is not only caused by fluids on the ground, but also solid particles that accompany manufacturing, such as dust, sawdust, fibres, granules or powder. Timber processing usually involves sawdust and timber dust. If the extraction ventilation does not function efficiently, dust or sawdust resides onto workplace surfaces, including pathways, and creates both respiratory problems and slipping danger.

When evaluating the risk caused by slipping it must be noted that employees who carry, push or pull weights are in danger the most. To avoid slipping-related damage, caution must be taken at all times. It is important to check the working condition of tools and that no fluids leak from them (oil, coolants, water). In the case of a leak, the fluid must be stopped from spreading and the leakage removed as soon as possible. Employee using a leaking tool must immediately inform their superior, who must organize the leak removal.

Stumbling occurs when a leg gets stuck to something while movement, but inertia carries the upper body forward. This makes the centre of the body’s gravity move forward from the legs and a person falls down. Stumbling is mostly caused by movement hindering objects.

Stumbling is mostly caused by the lack of order in the workplace. Usually, workplaces are not designed with the thought to avoid stumbling. Objects that cause stumbling are left there during work. Unexpected obstacles are the most dangerous ones and, unfortunately, installed flooring does not last forever. Uneven floor could cause stumbling. People usually assume that the floor is even and do not always carefully look before their legs. When possible, avoid projecting steps and different levels on pathways. If this is not possible, such places must be visibly marked.

Improperly fitted rugs and flooring materials can also cause problems on pathways. Their edges could turn upwards and people stumble. Removing such deficiencies is relatively easy. The existence of such obstacles primarily indicates negligent attitude towards guaranteeing the safety of employees.

Wires and hoses also cause stumbling on pathways. It is recommended to fit the feed wires and hoses of stationary devices into the floor or above ground, where they would not hinder movement. Take care not to place temporary wires (vacuum cleaner, laptop, mobile phone charger) across pathways. If this is impossible when using the nearest plug, notify the employees who use the pathway of this danger. Manufacturing waste or other random and unnecessary objects could also be left lying around on pathways.

The supervisor must be notified. If the employee cannot eliminate the hazard themselves, the supervisor must be notified as soon as possible.

It is important to involve all employees into keeping the working environment in a good condition.

No employee may remain indifferent if their activities have brought about a slipping or falling danger, or if they have noticed its’ formation that is caused by someone else. The hazard must be immediately eliminated (e.g. the floor dried or a box on the pathway moved aside). The supervisor must also be notified. If the employee is unable to eliminate the hazard, the supervisor must be notified as soon as possible.

Each employee must understand what an orderly workplace looks like, and how to keep the workplace clean. If pathways are not free or maintained, employees will begin to look for other movement paths, which could be untidy, uneven or slippery.

If possible, work must be organized so that moving around would avoid sudden twists and long walks. It must also be taken account that noise, too low and too high temperatures and attention distracters decrease the employee’s concentration on where they are walking.

In addition to the slipping and stumbling hazards, attention must also be paid to glass walls and transparent doors. In newer buildings, glass walls and doors are quite common, as are occupational accidents when people bump against them.

Transparent walls must be manufactured from a safe material or guarded against breakage and be clearly marked. Transparent doors must also be clearly marked. The layout of the marking is not that important as its’ clear visibility – the marking must be easily visible regardless of the lighting, weather conditions and employee’s height.

Prevention

Choosing the Flooring

Slipping hazard depends on the flooring material characteristics, and the flooring material choice depends on the workspace characteristics. For example, laminate parquet is inappropriate in kitchens due to its’ slipperiness and maintenance characteristics, but it would be rather sensible and safe in offices. In work environments where the slipperiness cannot be avoided, the slipping hazard must be decreased by choosing appropriate flooring materials. Pathways must be safe to walk on even in wet, oily or snowy conditions. When choosing the flooring, certainly pay attention to its’ antiskid, wearproof and cleanability characteristics.

Standards which describe the slip resistance of flooring for rooms in public use:

  • DIN 51097 defines slip resistance of flooring in barefoot      conditions (slip resistance classes A, B and C);
  • DIN 51130 defines slip resistance of flooring in places visited      with footwear, using the R-rating (R9–R13).

Based on these standards, the most suitable flooring can be chosen for each working environment, depending on the use place and conditions.

The relief does not automatically guarantee slipping-proof flooring. Also very slippery slabs are on sale, which do have a relief surface.

In addition to the slip resistance class, also other characteristics of the material must be paid attention to. For example, the strength class of rocks indicates for how long the floor will preserve its’ initial properties. Softer stones wear faster, harder ones slower. Rough limestone stairs will wear and become slippery very fast, but this will not be the case when using granite. But limestone may be the perfect match for some remote and underexposed floors.

Also PVC and other materials are available in several resistance classes. Consult the salesperson for more information.

Regarding the cleaning aspect – prefer materials that can be cleaned only with minimum amount of water as fully wet surfaces are very slippery.

Floor Wash

Inside, falling can be caused by washing the floors. If this is done while other employees are present, floor wash is not as dangerous to the washing person themselves, as it is to other employees present. The person washing the floor is aware of the hazard, but if someone steps unknowingly on the wet floor that has just been washed, they could fall.

The hazardousness of the washed floor largely depends on the surface coarseness – thus, special care must be taken when washing mirror-still floors. Avoid leaving the washed floor wet! Contemporary detergents do no longer equal a wet, pouring floor – it is crucial to use proper tools and techniques, and the person who must wash the floor must be properly trained.

Warning signs must be put up for the time when the floor is being washed or is still slippery. Similar hazard is also present at workplaces when the floor becomes wet while washing the tools. Proper flooring and footwear must be chosen in workplaces where the floor is constantly wet (sauna, swimming pools, car wash). When the flooring is coarse, it does not get slippery so easily.

Safe Floor Cleaning Techniques

Always use the suitable detergent and in the prescribed concentration.

Micro-fibre cleaning cloths must be washed with a suitable detergent that does not contain zeolites, optic brighteners nor conditioners. These substances have proven to quickly block and unite the fibres, and a wrongly washed cloth can collect only a small share of dirt that it actually is capable of collecting.

Most floors can be cleaned with very little water, meaning that the floor will dry in less than a minute.

If the surface cannot be cleaned with water, it must be cleaned wet during the time when the chance of someone walking there is small. Also, access to the cleaning area should be limited until the slipping hazard has passed.

Appropriate warning signs help to draw attention to the slipping hazard.

Using the Stairs

The risk of losing one’s balance on the stairs is much greater than on level ground.

The heights of stair steps may not differ. The recommended step height is up to 17 cm. Steps must have an equal width, at least 27 cm is recommended.

Attention must also be paid to stairs which have higher edges due to constructional reasons – the heels could get stuck there.

Old stair steps might be worn skew and cause falling. Accidents are also often caused by the round front edges of limestone and metal stairs, where the shoe tends to slip over.

The most common measure to prevent slipping on stairs is to use corresponding tape. Care must be taken to differentiate between abrasive (for outdoor use) and non-abrasive (for indoor use) tapes. The surface of the latter does not have an abrasive layer and non-slipping is guaranteed by a special surface pattern. These also don’t damage the footwear and are easy to clean.

Handrail is a natural part of the stairs. It is necessary to grab hold of, when a person loses their balance on the stairs. The handrail sometimes also functions as a guard, preventing from falling high. When it is known that also children will be using the stairs, their height and needs must also be taken into consideration when installing the handrails.

Accidents on stairs often occur due to stumbling on worn clothes. People step on the skirt or coat edge, lose their balance and fall. Consequences of such accidents could be tragic.

In addition to places that might trigger slipping or stumbling, special attention on pathways must be paid to places from where it is possible to fall down. These are mostly on platforms and docks, but also near holes. If possible, such areas must be fenced off. If this is impossible, such areas must be visibly and understandably marked.

Using a Ladder

Slipping from a ladder usually involves falling from heights, resulting in a severe health damage. Slipping from ladders can be avoided by using special anti-slip and removable step covers.

Lighting

Lighting the pathways is very important for preventing slipping and stumbling. Lighting must be sufficient to see dangerous places on pathways. Special attention must be paid to guaranteeing the visibility of level differences on pathways. Avoid using floor tiles that reflect light so intensively that it interferes with following the pathway. Stumbling can also be caused by a switch that is far from the door – meaning that an employee must reach it in the dark. Automatic lighting or reflective tape could be used on surfaces that must be avoided in the dark.

See also: Lighting Deficiencies.

Footwear

Slipping hazard can be decreased by using suitable footwear. However, protective footwear cannot be the only means to avoid slipping by. The most important is to keep pathways in order and avoid the slipping hazard at all.

If slipperiness in a working environment cannot be eliminated, footwear with anti-slip soles must be chosen. Employees working outdoor are recommended to uses anti-slip add-ons for footwear, especially if they must walk alternately on slippery and non-slippery surfaces.

Generally, anti-slip footwear is tested for compliance with the international standard EVS-EN ISO 13287:2012 – Personal Protective Equipment. Footwear. Test Method for Slip Resistance.

In the slip risk context, “suitable” means footwear with a smooth sole, preferably low heel, adequate sole pattern, and a softer sole that would have a good grip with the ground.

How to choose the right footwear?

  • Test it always in the specific surroundings and conditions.
  • Before buying a greater supply, test different footwear. For example, footwear meant for wet conditions might not be suitable for food processing rooms due to the sole pattern.
  • Sole pattern may not get clogged with any residue on the floor. If the pattern gets clogged, the specific shoes are not right for your conditions.
  • Sole pattern is especially important in the case of floors contaminating with fluids. In addition to other characteristics, a good      sole must direct the fluid away from under the sole in each direction, guaranteeing a good grip with the surface.
  • The sole material stiffness is of key importance. Depending on the contaminating substance, special requirements might apply on the material e.g. resistance to oil, alkali, acids, solvents and other substances). These categories are divided into sub-categories and a footwear that is resistant towards one acid may not have the same characteristics when it comes to contact with some other acid. Competent manufacturers have conducted more detailed tests. Some workplaces might require a stiff sole and in the long-term perspective, additional strength provided by a steel last can prove to be especially cost-effective.
  • Attention must also be paid to the shoe comfortableness.      Uncomfortable shoes unnecessarily burden the employees and they will exchange it with more comfortable, yet necessarily not more safer, shoes at the first possibility.

See also the following Tööelu articles: Protective Footwear and Removable Slipping-Proof Devices.

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