How To Avoid Slips & Trips

Avoiding the Triple Threat of Slips, Trips, and Falls Steps You Can Take to Cut Your Accident Rates

While hot safety issues like repetitive stress injuries have taken the spotlight in recent years, the more mundane slip and fall accidents have been ignored by employers. This lack of attention can be costly. Falls account for about 15 percent of all work-related injuries. Each year hundreds of workers die and thousands become disabled from falls on the job. In fact, these incidents are second only to lower back pain and lifting injuries in the number of workers’ comp claims filed.

Unfortunately, there has been little progress toward reducing these alarming statistics. Certainly, OSHA and other agencies are paying more attention to construction-related falls. But the run-of-the-mill slips and trips in general industry have not received much scrutiny.

Employers that do take such incidents seriously notice an immediate benefit. For instance, yacht manufacturer West Bay Sonship Yachts Ltd. of Delta, British Columbia, Canada, had an injury rate that was more than double the industry average in 1997. “We had four or five people a week falling down holes,” said safety training coordinator Michael Vuorensivu. “Now temporary hatch covers are secured. We’ve put railings where there should be railings, and retrained the employees who were constructing stairs and temporary ladders as to how they should be constructed so there’d be fewer individuals falling off these things.” As a result of these and other safety measures, the company’s injury rate dropped in half in 2000 and dropped even lower in 2001.

Why do we fall?

The consensus among safety professionals is that almost all falls can be prevented. It’s simply a matter of learning how to recognize fall hazards and making the effort to avoid them.

When you fall, you lose your balance and footing. Your center of gravity is displaced, and a fall is inevitable. You may be thrown off balance by slipping on a wet floor or tripping over an object in your way. Once you lose your footing and support, there’s no place to go but down.

One of the most common fall hazards is the unsafe or incorrect use of ladders. Climbing on other equipment instead of ladders to access higher levels is another unsafe work practice that often leads to injury.

Falls will often occur on the ground because of slippery surfaces caused by grease, water, or ice. Even if you have a sturdy, slip-resistant floor, as light contamination from dust, water, grease, or metal shavings can make the surface slippery. The use of inappropriate footwear and poor lighting or obstacles in walkways and on stairs can contribute to slips and falls, too.

In the supposedly safe environment of an office, falls are the most common type of injury. Tripping over an open desk or file drawer is one common hazard. Falls can also occur when someone bends while seated in an unstable chair. Tripping over electrical cords is another typical office fall.

Focus on hazards

Make tripping and fall hazards a major part of your regular safety inspections. Include these items in your inspection checklists and train your employees to watch out for them. Encourage your workers to report any wet or slippery floors or treads on stairways that have become.

Review accident reports to determine the causes of slips, trips, and falls. But don’t fall into the trap of blaming “carelessness.” One supervisor did just that at American Airlines when a cargo handler slipped on a worn tread as he was descending from the cab of a ramp cargo vehicle and broke his ankle. The supervisor was admonished by the safety department for writing down “Told to be careful” as the corrective action, when the real cause of the accident was the worn tread that should have been reported and replaced.

Training is an essential part of making everyone aware of the potential for slip and fall accidents. Include the following items in your safety talks:


  • Use the four–one ladder rule—Set the base of the ladder one foot away from the wall for every four feet of ladder height.

  • Only use ladders with nonskid feet.

  • Tie off the ladder or have someone support the base.

  • Never stand on the top two rungs of the ladder.

  • Don’t climb with tools in your hand—keep them on a tool belt.

  • Don’t overreach to the sides from the ladder.

  • Always fully extend stepladder legs before use.

  • Floor and Wall Openings and Holes

  • Put covers and/or guardrails in place to protect employees from falling into holes, pits, tanks, vats, and ditches.

  • If a cover needs to be removed from a hole or pit, there should be an attendant nearby or a removable railing to keep anyone from falling in.

  • Make sure lighting is adequate and replace burned-out bulbs promptly.

  • Avoid edges of loading docks and other areas where falls are likely.


  • Clean up grease, oil, and debris after each job.

  • Report accidental spills immediately.

  • If wet processes are regularly used at work, drainage should be provided as well as dry standing places (perhaps provided by mats).

  • Make sure walkways and stairs are well lighted and free of debris.

  • Report loose carpeting or damaged or uneven floors to Maintenance.

  • Close desk, tool, or file drawers after each use.• If you see anything on the floor, such as a pen or paper clip, pick it up.


  • Use slip-resistant footwear.

  • If possible, use nonslip surfaces for floors and ramps and slip-resistant floor waxes and polish.

  • Stair treads should also have non-slip surfaces.

  • Don’t take stairs two at a time.

  • Anticipate falls and prepare for them.

  • Look before you walk and make sure your pathway is clear—don’t walk backwards.

  • Changes in floor level should be clearly marked.

  • Make sure walkways and stairs are well cleared and sanded in snowy or icy weather.

  • Don’t run—walk!

Training tips

Make slips and falls your safety focus for the month. Have a poster contest awarding a prize for the best original poster aimed at preventing slips and falls. Display the poster and give out the prize at the safety meeting. Ask for employee suggestions on how to control fall hazards and give prizes for the best ideas.Hold a scavenger hunt and give out prizes to teams that find the most slip, trip, and fall hazards. Take photos of potential hazards and ask employees if they can identify them and their location.Many falls also occur at home. Some of the same safety procedures would apply for off-the-job safety as well. Discuss among your workers any recent slip and fall accidents that may have occurred at home and how they could have been avoided.