Don’t slip slide away: Take steps to prevent workplace accidents

Rebecca Weitzel

Rebecca Weitzel

You can learn a lot by watching videos of adorably tuxedoed penguins — and not just about how to dress for your next formal holiday party. If you watch closely, you’ll see their straight-backed, wide, flat-footed walking pattern offers a good model for how to move gracefully on snow and ice and in turn help you and your employees remain safe this winter.

According to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, slips, trips and falls rank as the second leading cause of general industry workplace accidents and account for 15 percent of accidental deaths. In an instant, a fall can result in life-altering pain, suffering and financial loss for individuals. Such accidents also can result in significant business costs associated with lost productivity, replacement employee costs, overtime for existing employees and increased workers’ compensation costs. By one estimate, direct and indirect winter slip-and-fall costs average $44,000 per incident.

Along with teaching your employees to walk like a penguin to avoid winter falls, consider preparing your facilities for winter weather in these five ways:

Formulate a snow and ice removal plan. Make sure your maintenance staff or vendors clear snow and melt ice quickly. Place buckets of ice melt near entrances for employees to assist in these efforts as needed.

Continuously check for hazards in parking lots and sidewalks. Many falls occur when people come and go from their vehicles. Check for ice buildup, melting piles of snow, potholes and cracks. Address these issues quickly with removal or repairs.

Ensure adequate lighting covers parking lots and sidewalks at night to improve visibility of possible hazards.

Know which areas have historically presented the biggest problems and address them well ahead of time.

Keep indoor entrances dry with a floor fan or beveled floor mats and clean up puddles quickly. Use wet floor signs to caution people to slow down.

Once you have a plan for keeping your workplace safe, share the following tips with your employees to increase their awareness and ensure good decision making:

Watch where you walk. That might seem obvious, but most of us habitually walk from point A to point B in a daydream-like state. During inclement weather, highly visible signs can jar people from their stupor and alert them to watch where they’re going.

Don’t use cell phones while walking. Texting or talking while walking can increase falling risk anytime, but especially on slippery surfaces.

Slow down. The military inspired saying — “Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.” — applies to many areas of life, including walking on snow and ice.

Free up your hands. Just because you slip doesn’t mean a fall is inevitable. Having your arms free can help you steady yourself. If you do fall, tuck your arms and chin in close to your chest to protect your wrists and head and try to land on your bottom. Backside bruises are better than breaks and head trauma.

Wear flat footwear with tread. High heels and smooth soles don’t work well on slippery surfaces.

Step down, not out. When getting out of your car, place both feet flat on the ground and use your hands for support. When stepping off of a curb, step flat-footed rather than extending your heal out first.

Report unsafe conditions to a supervisor or maintenance staff immediately.

By taking a few precautions and dispensing a little advice, employers can play a key role in reducing workplace accidents this winter. So where’s the best place to start? That’s easy. Simply don a tuxedo and demonstrate your best penguin walk for all to see. That will be one safety training your staff will never forget. Guaranteed.

Rebecca Weitzel is president of Good Life Wellness Solutions, which provides affordable, community-based wellness programs to small businesses. She’s also lead advisor in Mesa County for Health Links, a program of the Center for Health, Work & Environment at the Colorado School of Public Health. Contact Weitzel at 216-6390 or visit www.GoodLifeWellnessSolutions.com. or www.healthlinkscertified.org
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