Lab Safety Series: Slips, Trips and Falls

by Trevor Neve

Welcome to this edition of our Friday Lab Safety Series! Ollie the Lab Collie and his supervisor, Dr. Bunsen always say "Don't learn safety protocol by accident!"

Slips, trips and falls (STF's) are common and usually preventable incidents in the lab. First, let's lay out what a slip, a trip and a fall look like. We'll give you the stats on STF's, cover the 3 main areas of concern, and give you tips on implementing a safety strategy for your lab.

What are Slips, Trips and Falls anyway?

Slips are a loss of contact between the foot and the floor due to a lack of traction between the person's footwear and the walking surface. Culprits include loose mats/rugs, spills, weather related events (ice, snow, puddles), and surfaces that are wet or oily. The person's foot generally goes forward, and they fall back.

Trips occur when a person's foot strikes an object - resulting in a loss of balance. These are generally due to obstacles a person fails to see, such as clutter, uneven surfaces or in dim lighting conditions. The person generally falls forward in a sudden fashion.

Falls happen within 2 categories: falls from 'the same level', generally less than 3 meters and falls from heights - greater than 3 meters. Same level falls include falls from ladders, stools and stairs and comprise 65% of all fall injuries. Falls from heights include falls off scaffolding.

STFs may seem common sense - but they are a common and costly workplace injury. See this infographic for more stats from Ontario!

In Ontario alone:

  • 17,000 lost time injuries due to workplace falls every year

  • 1 in 5 injuries is from a STF

  • 20 workplace fatalities every year

  • 80 workers inured a day - one every 20 minutes

Slip, trip and fall hazards are dynamic - they are constantly changing. Laboratories by nature have features which can exacerbate these hazards. Constantly wet surfaces, frequent spills and splashes and constant washing of glassware can all contribute to the risk of an STF. There are 3 main areas to cover when looking to prevent STF hazards - walking surfaces, lighting and housekeeping standards.

Walking surfaces can cause trouble when they are uneven, slippery or in changes of traction due to change in surface type - i.e. from carpet to tile. Weather can also be a factor in creating hazardous walking surfaces.
Lighting is important, all walkways should be well lit. Housekeeping standards are important to set, particularly when it comes to spill clean up and keeping high traffic areas clear of boxes, extension cords, litter and debris. It is important to cover cables that cross walkways and to mark wet areas. These 3 components work together to ensure everyone is safe on their feet!

The great news about slips, trips and falls is that most solutions are low-cost, and easy to implement and maintain. Solutions include signage to warn of hazards including the use of wet floor signs, non-skid epoxy or non-slip treads, clean up supplies and proper training on spills and disposal of materials, and providing non-slip mats in appropriate areas.

First, know your lab's injury history. Have there been near misses, or STFs? Do a quick risk assessment of your space looking at the 3 main components - lighting, walking surface and housekeeping. Be sure to pay special attention to entrances, ramps, steps, high traffic walkways and the shipping/receiving area if you have one. For walking surfaces, you can conduct a 'scuff test' by scuffing your feet on both dry and wet surfaces. If it is slippery, you need to increase the co-efficient of friction to provide more traction by using a non-skid epoxy, non-slip treads or comfort mats with drain holes in areas that are frequently wet.

Implementing work practices can also assist you in preventing STFs. Initiating a hazard reporting protocol is a key step - allowing hazards to be identified and rectified quickly. Investigate all incidents to see what could have been prevented, and ensure workers have unobstructed views.

Training on cleaning spills and proper disposal of waste materials is important in preventing slippery walking surfaces - especially in areas that see frequent spills. Washing areas and tank rooms should be of particular focus for labs. The use of yellow paint and markings on uneven surfaces can prevent STFs.

It is essential that all employees must observe and take preventable action. These are our tips to ensure employee safety:

  • Take your time and pay attention to the task at hand

  • Adjust your pace to the walking surface/conditions

  • Ensure visibility over and around any load being carried

  • Close cabinet drawers and doors after use

  • Use handrails and please don't run on the stairs

  • Wear appropriate footwear

Don't be a Slippery Pete - stay on your feet!

dogs in the k-9 laboratory with glassware and microscope

Photo Credit : Reka Sugar

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