Falls are the second-leading cause of injuries in the precast plant, but most are preventable.
By Gustavo A. Gonzalez
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 250,000 disabling injuries resulting from a work-related slip, trip or fall have occurred in general industry each year since 1996. R ecords also show that most slip, trip and fall injuries are due to oily/slippery floors, surfaces that have been obstructed due to poor housekeeping and other such causes. The injured worker often suffers fractures, sprains, bruises and cuts.
Falls are among the leading causes of injury. Most falls in a plant are from elevated work surfaces such as vehicles, makeshift platforms, improper guard rails, slippery conditions on ladders, improper securing of ladders, lack of access to work areas and improper housekeeping.
The latest U.S Bureau of Labor statistics at www.bls.gov shows the following:
Private industry injury and illness cases due to falls:
Private industry fatalities due to falls:
Types of falls
There are statistically two types of falls:those that occur from a given height (elevated falls) and those that occur from the same level surface. One distinguishing fact is that same-level falls occur more often but have a low severity rate of injuries, while elevated falls occur less often but have a higher severity rate of injury due to the falling distance.
Slips or trips are same-level falls that result when an employee loses contact with the walking or working surfacedue to slippery conditions or when he or she strikes an object and loses balance.
Elevated falls are falls from high objects such as molds, platforms, mobile equipment or even trailer beds. One relevant fact is that most injury-producing elevated falls occur when the employee is working from a height of 10 feet or less.
Slips, trips and falls can be caused by many factors, most of which are under our control to eliminate. In the precast industry, some of the most common causes are:
- Type of shoes
- Weather conditions
- Use of ladders
- Type and condition of floors
- Employee actions
Slips and falls
The coefficient of friction, or COF, is a definition of traction, which is the force that allows us to walk without slipping. In general, the higher the COF the greater the friction between two surfaces, and therefore the greater the traction between them.
This concept can be better illustrated by comparing a pair of rubber-soled boots on a concrete floor with a pair of leather-soled shoes on a wet tile floor. The rubber sole against the concrete will have a greater coefficient of friction than the leather sole and therefore better traction and less chance of slipping.
The type of shoes we wear at the plant is very important in reducing slips and falls. Loose or worn shoes are more prone to causing slips, especially when climbing or walking on wet or slippery surfaces.
Boots with nonskid rubber soles are by far the best type of shoe to use at the plant. They help protect our ankles from twisting and have a high coefficient of friction against most types of floors encountered in our environment.
Follow these basic rules when you select and purchase a new pair of boots for work:
- The boot must hold the heel tightly.
- The toes must be able to move freely.
- The boots must hold the foot tightly so it does not slide inside the boot.
- Size both feet, as one is usually bigger that the other.
- Buy boots in the afternoon when your feet are swollen.
- Buy boots with nonskid, oil-resistant rubber soles.
- Cushioned and insulated boots are better.
Remember that we wear our work boots for longer periods of time than any other pair of shoes we have, and it is done under a different environment. The proper fit and the boot’s characteristics will help us eliminate some of the hazards related to slips and falls.
Trips and falls
Trips result from the foot striking an object at a different level than the walking surface, such as an air hose or extension cord lying on the floor, or a chunk of solid concrete stuck to the floor surface.
Another similar situation occurs when we step from a higher level to a lower one and the foot lands on an unexpectedly lower surface, causing loss of balance and a fall.
Outdoor weather conditions can create hazards that will lead to slips and falls. Wet or icy surfaces tend to reduce the coefficient of friction and therefore reduce traction. Under these circumstances, adjust your pace to make sure that your feet make total contact with the walking surface, thus reducing the chances for slippage.
Proper drainage, the use of ice-melting products, wearing a good pair of boots and paying attention to surface conditions help to eliminate some of the hazards associated with weather conditions.
Keeping walking and working surfaces clean and free of obstacles is perhaps one of the most important steps in eliminating slips, trips and falls. The policy of “clean as you go” must be adhered to at all times. This means keeping your work area clean throughout the day and not waiting until the end of the day to sweep and pick up all the pieces of rebar, extension cords, air hoses and other debris or obstacles that may have accumulated on the floor.
Equipment such as buckets, oil cans or sprayers, slings and chains, vibrators, or tools such as shovels, rakes, bull floats and brooms should be stored after usage in a designated place away from work and traffic areas.
Forms should be placed in such a way that facilitates free access to them and eliminating tripping hazards. Any part of a form that may interfere with walking should be painted bright orange or yellow so it can be easily recognized as a tripping hazard.
No hard concrete deposits should be on the floor at any time. Any concrete spillage should be removed immediately and not allowed to harden.
There should be enough trash cans provided to discard empty silicone tubes, Styrofoam pieces, drink containers or any other object that could create a slip or trip hazard if it is thrown onto the floor. Form oil, diesel or any other spilled liquid must be cleaned up and disposed of properly.
Use of ladders
Falls from ladders are one of the most common types of fall, and they are mostly due to the improper use of ladders and lack of inspection. There are many types of ladders, ranging from two-step stools to 60-foot extension ladders. Two of the most common are the A-frame ladder and the extension ladder.
Ladders must be inspected before use, and any problems should be brought to the attention of your supervisor. Any unsafe ladder should be tagged “Do not use” or should be discarded. Use only heavy-duty ladders that bear the ANSI approval, and stay within the ladder’s load rating.
Never try to reach beyond the ladder; follow the simple rule of keeping your belt buckle within the rails of the ladder at all times. Ladders should be set on a firm, level surface with both rails resting on it. Extension ladders should extent at least 3 feet (or three rungs) past the top of the object they are leaning against, and the bottom should be at a distance from the object of at least one-fourth the height of the object. This means that as a ladder is set against an object measuring 12 feet in height, the bottom of the ladder must be at least 3 feet from the object.
A-frame ladders cannot be used as extension ladders. They must be fully open with the bracket locked in place. Do not step on the last two rungs of a ladder.
Your feet must be set correctly on the ladder. Stand with your heels as close to the rung as possible. This will help you to keep your balance. When ascending or descending, use both hands to hold the rails. Do not carry objects or tools in your hands. Most ladders are designed for one person only.
There are several other factors to take into consideration in order to eliminate slip, trip and fall hazards.
Walking Surfaces. Besides concrete flooring, it is not uncommon to find inside a plant different types of walking surfaces such as gravel, asphalt, dirt and other floor coverings. When working or walking, be aware of the type of surface you are on so that you can adjust your pace and footing accordingly.
Lighting. All working and walking areas should be well illuminated, especially around stairwells and hallways. Another issue to consider is entering a building from the outside or exiting a building to the outside. This may cause temporary blindness while your eyes adjust to the illumination levels. Wearing dark classes also may contribute to this problem.
Employee Actions. Most risks for injuries include running, rushing, carrying objects that block the vision, wearing improper or worn-out footwear, not using handrails, jumping off objects, and not paying attention or being distracted. These are hazards that employees can correct themselves by paying closer attention to what they are doing and being aware of their surroundings at all times.
Vehicles. Truck beds and cabs, end loaders, forklifts and other types of vehicles present hazards while getting in, out, on and off of them.
Do not jump off a vehicle. When ascending or descending use the three-point system: two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand. Get a good handhold. Step down or climb on while facing the equipment. Keep the vehicle’s steps and floor clean and dry. Wipe off any excess dirt, oil or other slippery material.
Platforms. Be aware of docks and platforms, and be careful around them. Check the railings and catwalks on the forms or any other raised work platform such as scaffolds. Do not climb on top of buckets, drums, sawhorses or any other improvised platform. Cover all floor holes.
Office Areas. Employees should watch for electrical cords and extensions lying on the floor, open drawers, cabinets that are too high to reach, worn carpets, and spills on the kitchen or break room floor. Do not use chairs or filing cabinets as ladders.
Report any slip, trip and fall hazards to your supervisor immediately so he or she can take the appropriate action to correct it. Keep your work area clean and pick up any obstructions that are lying on the floor that may create a hazard.
Remember, as a plant employee you are the first line of defense for most slip, trip and fall hazards. You can usually eliminate them by observing some basic safety rules.
Gustavo Gonzalez has nearly 20 years of experience in the precast concrete industry. He has a bachelor’s degree in Industrial Engineering Technology from Florida International University and is a former precast concrete plant manager. He currently serves as an instructor for the National Safety Council and the National Precast Concrete Association.