Falling Down on the Job

Construction worker wearing safety harness

Last week OSHA promoted a National Safety Stand-Down to prevent falls in construction. This makes sense as falls from height are the leading cause of fatalities in the construction trades. Although the stand-down was last week this is certainly a topic that should be continually emphasized by those in the construction industry.  

However, falls from height in construction are not the only concern regarding fall injuries or fatalities. Slip, trip, and fall injuries and deaths occur in all industries and in all situations. Falling on ice and snow, tripping over carpet or uneven tile, slipping off truck tailgates or cab steps, even just tripping over one’s own feet can all cause painful, even fatal, consequences.

Injury Facts, the National Safety Council resource, includes an interactive chart depicting statistics for falls on the same level. These represent people who have fallen to the floor or ground without any height component. Simply put, they just fell down. Once the fall occurs the severity of the injury is often just a matter of luck. The statistics show that in 2019 there were 153,140 injuries involving days away from work; this is the highest number since 2014. Additionally, there were 146 fatalities making it the third highest year since 2011. What is behind these unfortunate increases?

The aging workforce may be a factor in these numbers. In 2019, workers aged 55 and older accounted for 113 of the 146 deaths and all but six of the fatalities were from workers 45 and older. Similar numbers can be found when looking at the rate of nonfatal fall (on the same level) injuries per 10,000 workers. Rates for workers in the age groups older than 45 are higher than any younger age groups.

Older workers provide significant value to the workforce with their experience and institutional knowledge. As the overall population ages there will be more and more older employees in the workforce. Protecting these valuable employees from injury should be a priority for employers. But it is not just older workers who are injured from falls on the same level. Sedentary lifestyles can also play a part regardless of age. Allan Brown, MEMIC’s Ergonomics Director, has often said, “The more we sit, the more we fall down.” Workers in many industries are very inactive at work as they are sitting at desks using a computer or talking on the phone. Lack of overall physical conditioning, core strength, and flexibility can lead to more fall injuries. The human body is designed to move. Our muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones all benefit from regular movement as does our cardiovascular system. The other saying that comes to mind is, “if you don’t use it, you lose it.”

We often promote stretch breaks and regular movement to help prevent ergonomic injuries. To read more about this you need look no further than last week’s post by Greg LaRochelle- You Gotta Move. But those same steps can be taken to help reduce the likelihood of fall injuries as well. A healthier, stronger, and more vibrant body is less likely to lose balance and fall. Also, if a fall occurs the seriousness of the injury and/or the recovery time may be more manageable.

So, what can employers do? Combining the traditional focus on slip/trip/fall prevention strategies with providing overall wellness focused resources could be a great combination. Wellness programs can be beneficial to assist employees to understand the benefits of healthy lifestyles to include core strengthening, weight loss, blood pressure control, diabetes prevention, and cardiovascular health. Combine these wellness focused initiatives with an aggressive fall prevention program that includes footwear policies, facility inspections targeting fall hazards, and a comprehensive property management process. Together these activities could reduce the terrible human suffering that can come from falls on the same level.

For more information check out these previous Safety Net posts that address slip/trip/fall prevention: Slip and Fall: What’s Under Our Feet? Solutions Can Be Found on the Surface, Target Mapping to Prevent Slips, Trips, and Falls, A Simple Slip and Fall, and Falls from Rolling Chairs- Yeah, it’s a Thing. Interested in wellness programs and activities? We’ve got you covered here as well with these posts: A Healthy Bottom Line Means Healthy Employees, Is Your Company Fit for a Fitness Center? and Why Should I Invest in My Wellness?