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Protective Footwear

Published: 01st Sep 2009

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Getting to grips with slips and trips

No matter what the country or the type of industry, slips, trips and falls remain one of the biggest international causes of workplace injuries and an almost constant challenge for those responsible for worker safety.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of workers across Europe, suffer injuries resulting from a slip, trip or fall, costing many many millions in lost production and downtime and leaving businesses and their directors exposed to the growing threat of legal action and prosecution under ever tightening health and safety law.

Where workers are on the move as a result of their job, there will always be the threat of a slip, trip or falls taking place. Engineering out the risk completely is, in the vast majority of industries simply impossible, so the focus instead where as much has been done to eradicate the risk, turns to minimising the risk.

This article looks at the key issues that need to be addressed to combat workplace slips, trips and falls.

Slips, trips and falls affect every country around the world. Looking at the issue from a statistical perspective in the UK alone, it is estimated that the annual cost of slip and trip accidents to society could be over £800 million, with over £500 million directly contributable costs to employers, with over 1,000 workers a month suffering from a serious injury as a result of a slip, trip or fall.

Slips and trips are reported to be the single most common cause of major injury in UK workplaces, being responsible for 38% of all major injuries and 24% of all over 3 day injuries.

But is it not just the slip and trip classified accidents, which impact upon the workplace. They are also the initiators of accidents that can be attributed to other causes, such as some machinery accidents.

Such is the impact that slips and trips have historically had that the Health and Safety Executive has been running its high profile Shattered Lives campaign - to raise awareness and provide solutions to some of the key issues.

It is likely that one of the major motivators for establishing the campaign, was that despite knowing what the implications of a slip or trip in the workplace can be, it is an issue that businesses have traditionally struggled to really get to grips with - particularly for those operating in the in the construction, manufacturing, food processing public and medical sectors.

But why has that been? Possibly because for too long the focus has been placed on the physical qualities and attributes of safety footwear rather than their ability to perform underfoot, and the performance requirements in a range of different environments and in contact with different substances or liquids.

When it comes to foot related accidents in the workplace, you are far more likely to suffer an injury as a result of slipping and tripping than you are from something dropping onto your foot or from chemical exposure.

But no matter what the industry sector, the main cause of slips and trips in the workplace remain consistent - wet surfaces, substances spilled on the floor, uneven surfaces and poor housekeeping.

So just what can be done to reduce slips and trips in the workplace?

As always, an investment has to be made to reduce accident levels. But it is an investment in time that can make the largest positive impact in reducing workplace slips and trips.

Keep your house in order

According to the HSE, 50% of all trip accidents are caused by bad housekeeping. So a programme to review and remove slip and trip hazards in addition to a commitment to maintain tidiness are some of the most simple, obvious effective steps that can be taken to reduce slip and trip hazards. Improving housekeeping can be done in a number of ways including:

  • Ensuring there is a suitable and clear walkway through the workplace
  • Keep walkways clear and ensure there are no trailing wires or obstructions
  • Reviewing the way that staff work and the areas in which they operate - are the floors tidy, is there enough storage space?

Despite the simplicity of this process, companies are still being prosecuted for workers injured as a result of tripping over an extension cable or uneven floor surface.

Clearly, workplaces need to be kept clean and tidy, and free from obstacles that present a tripping hazard and workers should be educated about the need to reduce tripping hazards by maintaining good housekeeping levels in their own area.

But when it comes to slipping hazards, the issues are wider than just good housekeeping. The reality is that no matter how effective housekeeping is, spillages in industrial, manufacturing, transport, and processing applications - to name but a few - will always take place purely by the nature of the tasks undertaken.

So, whilst safety footwear, like any form of PPE, should be the last line of defence, it remains the main counter to the threat of slips and trips - especially given the more recent advances in sole unit design and materials technology.

Selecting the right footwear

The development of safety footwear solutions has increased significantly over the past 20 years with the development and utilization of a range of footwear technologies and materials. The result is that there has never been as many safety footwear solutions to choose from as there are today.

In many ways however, as safety footwear has become more technical and provided a greater range of protection comfort and performance, the selection process for the health and safety manager or employer has become a potentially more complex and time consuming task.

Where previously there were relatively few parameters to consider - size, style, levels of physical protection required, today there are a wide range of potential safety footwear solutions available.

The end result of this growth in technology is positive - as protection and comfort have been increased. But if we are going to reduce slip, trip and general foot related accidents in the workplace, there needs to be a commitment to investing more time in the selection process.

The challenge in making an impact on slips and trips lies not just in highlighting and understanding the risks and hazards but in finding the right footwear solution to counter those hazards.

Where safety footwear performance is concerned, too many people still think about physical performance and not enough about wider considerations - such as the workplace environment, the substances the feet will come into contact with, the way in which people work and what sole unit designs and materials will provide the most effective grip.

Effective safety footwear selection is about matching performance needs to the workplace hazards by looking at key issues that include:

Hazards - physical, chemical, thermal, trip, slip - crush, puncture, impact, liquid spilled on a surface.

Environment - are people working indoors or outdoors, in a wet or dry environment, or a combination of both? Will they have to go into premises or environments, which possess slip trip risks.

Recently a Midlands company was held responsible for a driver breaking his ankle and fined a total of £5,600 and ordered to pay costs of £8,951.The company was prosecuted for failing to ensure there was a suitable and sufficient risk assessment of the wooden decking near a diesel pump, which he slipped on after getting down from his lorry cab.

Ergonomics - are people on their feet all day, does their job involve high flexing, bending or climbing (ladders or stairs) or constant movement or does their job involve them standing still for long periods?

Only when you combine all of these elements together in the identification and selection process will you really find the right safety footwear solution.

Whilst a mass of industries will have the same physical hazards, ie crush and puncture, the environment in which the people work and the way in which they will work will vary massively.

For example: A warehouse worker may face the same physical hazards as a construction worker - crush, puncture and slip for example. However the environment and way in which they work will differ radically as will their most effective safety footwear solution.

So we must look holistically at the wearers needs. It is not good enough to simply undertake a risk assessment and tick the protection box, hoping that the ergonomic and environmental issues will take care of themselves.

And that is where the investment in time needs to be made.

This approach applies to every element of the selection criteria. If there is a slip issue the sole unit has to be relevant to the environment in which it will operate. Failure to do this could actually increase the risk of a slip and trip taking place. A sole unit that provides excellent slip resistance for the food sector will not be fit for purpose within the construction sector, despite the fact that the hazard is the same. It will be the environmental and ergonomic factors that will ultimately drive the selection process.

Businesses have to assess the risks, environment and ergonomic requirements - of their workers, balancing their needs together to come up with the right solution if the threat of slips and trips is to be further reduced.

Getting to grips with grip

There are a number of issues that need to be considered when selecting the right sole unit for the workplace. Typically these will include:

  • Does the footwear have the right grip for the environment - This is a critical step if you are to supply the right solution for the wearer. What type of grip requirements does the wearer have? Are they working outdoors or in a factory, in a wet or dry environment, on uneven or flat surfaces. Does the job require them to lift and carry, twist and turn or climb up or down?
  • Is there a progressive shock absorber within the heel - A result of the combination of the constant pounding that the feet are exposed to in the workplace and the provision over the years of protective footwear that has not provided adequate shock absorption, employees are suffering micro traumatic shock injuries, which, although in isolation are not enough to cause harm, accumulate over time to the point where the employee suffers a musculoskeletal injury, tendon, or muscle damage

Like dermatitis, micro traumatic shock injuries creep up on the sufferer, building up over time, gradually wearing down the employee until they reach a point where the constant impact on the body becomes too much and an injury is suffered

Musculoskeletal injuries - which include back, muscle, nerve and joint injuries leave the sufferer in considerable pain and in many instances require them to have considerable time off work to recover. Combined with this is an increased likelihood on an injured employee seeking compensation.

  • Is the sole unit up to the job - particularly important for people working, for example, in muddy conditions where a sole unit that is clogged up and unable to perform can become extremely hazardous for the wearer, offering virtually no grip whatsoever, a situation that can similarly arise in the food sector where a tread pattern that actually accumulates food that is trodden on rather than removing it creates a very real and potentially hazardous slip threat
  • Is the wearer going to be constantly on their feet - if the answer is yes, then you will need to consider a grip that follows the pressure zones of the feet, that has an anti- torision system under the arch and with a shock absorber in the heel.

Whilst providing physical protection is clearly an essential ingredient in safety footwear selection process, the points highlighted above show that it should not be the only consideration. A grip that, when it comes out of the box, looks chunky may in reality be wholly inappropriate for the wearer and the job they do.

Leading manufacturers realise just how important grip is and spend a great deal of time and money coming up with a range of solutions.

The cost of getting it wrong

Example 1 - A kitchen worker fractured her skull after slipping at work. The prosecuted employer was ordered to pay over £36,000 including prosecution costs.

The HSE inspector found that the tiled floor appeared to be in good condition yet it still felt slippery even when the tiles looked to be clean and dry. When just small amounts of water got onto the floor it was found to be very slippery. To make matters worse, some areas of the kitchen floor sloped, increasing the slip risk. Kitchen staff could be seen walking with a very peculiar gait to try to avoid slipping. Floor 'safety' mats had been put down in some parts of the kitchen, such as in the dish wash area, but these were slippery to walk on too, especially when wet. Cleaners had removed these mats at the time of the worker's accident, leaving her to walk on the slippery tiled floor that quickly became contaminated with food waste, water and oily residues.

The worker experienced an uncontrollable slip and hit her head on the hard tiled floor. She was rushed to hospital where she drifted in and out of consciousness, suffered seizures and spent a lengthy period in the hospital's high dependency unit.

Example 2 - Workers finger amputated following an accident at work

A worker had his finger amputated after he slipped and put his hand into an unguarded machine.

A confectionery company was fined after a maintenance engineer was involved in an accident at work resulting in him requiring a finger amputating.

The engineer received his workplace injuries after slipping whilst viewing some unguarded machine gears on the 5th October 2007. He put his hand down into the unguarded machine to regain his balance as the pinion rolled past, this led to his right index finger being crushed and needing to be amputated above the second knuckle.

The company was fined £30,000 for violating the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations, another £10,000 for an infringement of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations. They were also ordered to pay a further £13,000 in costs.

In conclusion

Slips, trips and falls are a major issue and need to be taken extremely seriously.

Whilst many precautionary measures will involve ensuring good housekeeping procedures are implemented, other issues - such as the selection of the right type of sole technology - need to be more considered.

Grip is king when trying to reduce slips in the workplace. Get this step right and the chances of losing employees to needless injury will be significantly reduced.

Author Details:

Stuart Thorne

Jal GroupThe Safety Shoes Specialist

Tel: +44 (0)1827 307999www.jal-group.com

For more information on Protective Footwear please go to http://www.osedirectory.com/product.php?type=health&product_id=18

Published: 01st Sep 2009 in Health and Safety International

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