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10 simple ways to prevent slips, trips and falls on your work sites

Slips, trips and falls are among the leading causes of workplace injuries. According to 2011 Census of Occupational Injuries, published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, they not only result in countless hours of lost work and millions of dollars in worker’s compensation claims, they are also the fourth highest source of workplace fatalities. Sadly, many of these tragedies can be prevented.

Here are 10 common work site hazards that can lead to slips, trips and falls and some simple ways to avoid them:Hazard #1: Tools, supplies and construction debris are scattered around the work site where inattentive workers may trip over them. Solution: Keep the work site clean and well organized. Move supplies to a location that is out of the primary flow of traffic, and gather construction debris into a single pile, also out of the way. Make sure that all workflow lanes are kept clear to prevent slips, trips and falls. Hazard #2: Jumping off of the bottom rungs of a ladder or a track on a piece of equipment is a common move for equipment operators. But it’s a proven way to sprain your ankle or cause other knee, leg or back injuries. Solution: Always use three points of contact (two hands and one foot or one hand and two feet) when entering and exiting equipment. Don’t skip a step or jump down to the ground. If the surface is uneven, wet or frozen, you could easily lose your footing and injure yourself. Hazard #3: Failure to watch for wet or frozen areas that may be slippery can lead to slips, trips and falls, especially in climates where weather conditions can be highly variable. Solution: When you’re walking around the work site, pay attention to the changing ground conditions in front of you. In particular, watch for "black ice - thin, frozen layers of water - that can be the most dangerous, because they look just like puddles. Muddy areas can also be surprisingly slippery. Keep in mind that ground conditions may change day-to-day as the work site evolves. Always be alert. If you encounter slippery conditions while on foot, slow down! Take smaller steps so that your center of gravity remains firmly planted over your feet. Hazard #4: Mud, ice and snow aren’t just hazardous when you’re climbing on and off equipment. Flat surfaces, such as decks and walkways, where water can pool and freeze, can be just as dangerous. Solution: Watch your step at all times. Where possible, hold onto a railing to steady yourself. Hazard #5: Workers naturally assume that temporary flooring or scaffolding is in good condition and can support their weight. But that’s not always the case. It may actually be loose or in poor condition. If it fails, the consequences could be fatal. This actually happened at a job site I visited to shoot video footage for a training program. The superintendent there told us that two weeks before our visit, an experienced iron worker stepped on the end of a piece of temporary flooring made of corrugated sheet metal that was unsupported over the end of a beam. The sheet tipped up and the man fell three stories to his death. The lesson: Even experienced workers can get complacent and make mistakes. Solution: Inspect all scaffolding and temporary flooring on a daily basis to ensure it is in good condition, properly attached and can hold your weight. Don’t assume that it’s safe to use. Hazard #6: Air hoses, welding cables, electrical extension cords and temporary wiring on the ground or hung overhead can cause workers to trip and fall. Wiring and cords dangling from overhead beams potentially can cause strangulation or electrocution injuries. Solution: Cords and hoses crossing traffic lanes within the work site should be placed under hose and cable bridges. People and equipment can safely pass over them without damaging them. At the same time, these simple devices help to minimize trip hazards for workers. Overhead wires and hoses should be neatly tucked away, so they don’t hang down in front of workers and machinery. Hazard #7: Temporary bracing or extensions into travel lanes can be struck by machinery or workers on foot, potentially causing injuries and equipment damage. Don’t assume that your equipment operators and laborers will see these obstructions. Often, people aren’t paying as much attention to what they’re doing as they should be, especially when there is a need and pressure for speed and productivity. Also, older people may be working with diminished depth perception, causing them to misjudge the distance between themselves and obstructions. That can lead to near misses and accidents. Solution: Any such obstructions should be clearly flagged to attract attention. Cones or other devices can be used to route foot and vehicle traffic around them. High-visibility paint and warning lights can also be employed to get the attention of workers. Hazard #8: Open excavations can become fall hazards for inattentive workers. In some cases, operators of small equipment - such as skid steer loaders - may not be able to see a trench until they are almost on top of it. Also, supplies and equipment that are too close to an excavation could tumble into it, injuring workers in the trench. Finally, laborers walking on faces of sloped or benched excavations can easily lose their footing and tumble into the trench, injuring themselves and others working in it. Solution: Open excavations must be protected. OSHA’s excavation guidelines state that contractors should "'provide warning systems such as mobile equipment, barricades, hand or mechanical signals, or stop logs, to alert operators of the edge of an excavation." In addition, OSHA recommends that materials and equipment be moved at least two feet from the edge of an excavation, to minimize the risk of it falling into the trench. Finally, workers should avoid walking across faces of sloped or benched excavations unless the workers below are "adequately protected from the hazard of falling, rolling, or sliding material or equipment." Hazard #9: Workers standing near equipment that is excavating material or lifting pipe or other objects could be knocked to the ground or into the trench by the machine’s bucket or its load, especially if the equipment operator accidentally jostles or moves a control joystick too quickly. Rotating equipment tail swing is also a big problem on work sites. All too often, workers don’t realize how large the swing radius of an hydraulic excavator’s counterweight is - until it’s too late Solution: OSHA recommends "to avoid being struck by any spillage or falling materials, require employees to stand away from vehicles being loaded or unloaded." For any material lifts, a tag-line should be used to help control the motion of the load. Hazard #10: Failure to use the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) can have fatal consequences. For example, a worker in the bucket of an aerial lift could tumble to his or her death if not properly harnessed to it. Ladders are another common work site hazard, responsible for dozens of deaths and thousands of fall injuries per year. Solution: Proper PPE must be worn at all times when working on the job site. Just because an accident hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it WON’T happen. Take care when climbing up or down ladders; use three-point contact at all times. Ladders should be tied off to a secure, fixed object. In conclusion, be vigilant to identify and eliminate these common slip, trip and fall hazards from your work sites. At first, investing 30 minutes a day to keep them clean and safe may seem like an unproductive waste of time - after all, time IS money. But its only a fraction of what an accident, lost work injury, lawsuit and fines from your local regulatory agency would cost. Interested in related products? See: Fall Protection Handbook

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