by guest blogger Jonathan Tyson, MASc, CPE - Relationship Manager, WCB Nova Scotia Work-related slips, trips and falls are an all too frequent cause of injuries to workers in Nova Scotia. Unfortunately, many people think that these happen because workers aren’t paying enough attention to how or where they are walking. This, in turn, results in many people thinking they can fix the problem by just telling workers to pay more attention. The truth of the matter is, it just doesn’t work that way. While it is true that inattention may be a contributing factor to a slip, trip or fall, there are usually other more important factors that need to be addressed. Before going on, it is important to understand that none of us pay attention to how we walk. Once we are old enough to get a job, we know how to walk. It is something we do without thinking unless some external cues make us aware that we need to. For instance, when are walking on a sidewalk or inside a building we expect the surface we are walking on to be smooth and consistent, and unless there is something that makes us pay attention (e.g. a big yellow sign in the middle of the hall), we won’t. Of course, it is a very different situation if we are walking down a rough trail in the forest. Then we pay a great deal of attention to how we are walking, where we are placing our feet, and what the condition of the ground is. If telling someone to pay more attention isn’t going to stop people from slipping, tripping and falling then what will? Well, it all comes back to the key elements related to the prevention of all accidents. We can stop slip, trip and fall related injuries by identifying, assessing and controlling the hazards that cause people to slip, trip and fall in the first place. Slips are the result of reduced friction between the worker’s footwear and the walking surface. If there isn’t enough friction between the footwear and the walking surface then it is almost inevitable that people will slip, even if they are paying attention. You have likely seen videos of people who are walking very carefully on a patch of ice and even though they are paying attention, they slip and fall. This is because, at some point, it doesn’t matter how careful you are, if the surface is slippery, you will almost certainly slip. As an employer, preventing slips requires you to consider two elements, the worker’s footwear and the walking surface. Workers should wear footwear that is appropriate to the walking surface, and as slip resistant as possible. In some workplaces, where it is difficult to keep contaminants off the walking surfaces it may be necessary to provide workers with footwear that is designed to increase friction when walking on floors with certain contaminants. Also, with workers who work outside, providing them with footwear and/or anti-slip devices (e.g. ice traction devices ) can help prevent slips and falls when it is cold, snowy and/or icy. Conversely, you also need to ensure that walking surfaces are clean and free of contaminants (water, oil, powders, grease, snow, ice, etc.) that can reduce the surface friction. This means you need to have a way to quickly identify and remove contaminants, for both inside and outside walking surfaces. And while it may be difficult to keep sidewalks, and public/private stairways clear of ice and snow in the winter, you can begin by making sure that workers are reporting any problem areas, and that these are documented and shared with all staff who might be walking in these areas. Additionally, workers should be advised to not attempt to walk on or up snow covered sidewalks or stairs. Finally, walking surfaces should be designed to reduce slips and falls. For instance, a highly polished tile or marble floor might look good, but it will likely result in more people slipping than, say, a textured tile or concrete floor. We're in the midst of the slipperiest season of the year, so come back and look for more information about preventing trips and falls in a future blog post!