Causes of falls: Environment, equipment, and behaviors

Date Posted: 04/25/2022
Fall Hazard | Slipping on tear in rug

Most accidents, including falls, result from a combination of a workplace hazards and employee behaviors. In some cases, employers might not be able to identify a specific hazard. Usually, however, a hazard involving the environment or the equipment used will be a factor.

Environmental hazards

When looking for fall hazards, safety professionals might focus on potential falls to a lower level. While these often cause serious injuries, a greater number of injuries result from falls on the same level. Factors that cause same-level falls include a tripping on uneven surfaces, slippery or wet floors, holes, protrusions such as bolts, or debris on the floor.

Proper housekeeping should address most tripping hazards, and routine inspections should identify other environmental hazards. If a hazard cannot be removed immediately (such as a bolt in a concrete floor where a rack was removed) it should be clearly marked until it can be addressed.

Equipment hazards

Falls to a lower level often involve equipment. Examples might include faulty or damaged fall protection equipment, peeling or worn tread on stairs, or damaged ladders. Even passive fall protection such as guardrails could fail from loose railings or bolts.

OSHA requires employers to inspect walking-working surfaces regularly and as necessary, and that includes any equipment used. The term “regularly” means the employer establishes a frequency (such as monthly or annually) for inspections. The “as necessary” inspections are typically performed in response to an event, like inspecting a mobile ladder stand that was struck by a forklift. Employees must be involved as well, such as inspecting ladders before the first use on each shift.

Behavioral hazards

Employee behaviors (actions or inactions) also contribute to falls. Employers sometimes blame employees for failing to notice or avoid a hazard. Expecting employees to notice hazards is legitimate, but the employer usually needs to deliver effective training on how to identify and report them. If employees haven’t been trained to inspect ladders, for example, they should not be expected to recognize a defect that makes the ladder unsafe.

Other behaviors may range from wearing inappropriate footwear to carrying heavy or bulky items. Anything that takes an employee’s awareness away from the surroundings increases the potential for failing to identify a hazard. To prevent falls, employees must use the safety between their ears, but that organ can be easily distracted by other tasks.

Preventing falls requires looking for hazards as well as root causes. Evaluate how the hazard arose, determine who might have seen it and failed to report it, and identify who is responsible for addressing it. Finally, train employees on hazard recognition and create a process for reporting hazards.

How Safety Management Suite Can Help

Safety Topic Webcasts

To help prevent fall-related injuries, employers must identify hazards, but how you go about doing that is the tough part. To learn more, watch our webcast “Fall Prevention: Best Practices for the 3 Main Types of Hazards” from April 28, 2022. Our experts explain the three main types of hazards that cause falls: unsafe environment, unsafe equipment, and unsafe behavior. They also covered fall hazard prevention strategies. Log in or start a free trial to watch this archived webcast!

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