Workplace slips, trips and falls in the US – a critical issue

The article below discusses the obligations of businesses to adhere to health and safety regulations in the USA. It looks at the introduction of health and safety law, the impact these laws have already had. The article also discusses how much further there is to go to make workplaces in the USA as safe as possible for employees and patrons of retail environments, and the ways that SpillDetect can support businesses in reducing their risk profile and improve safety conditions.

This is covered in the following sections:

  1. Health & Safety Laws in the USA
  2. So, what does this mean for businesses?
  3. How can we prevent slips trips and falls in the workplace?
  4. How can SpillDetect® help businesses?
  5. Can workplace injuries be prevented?
  6. Who benefits from reducing workplace injuries?

Health and Safety laws in the USA

The creation of Health & Safety laws in the USA dates back to 1970 when the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was created with the simple mission – no worker should have to choose between their life and their job.

Since the creation of this act, workplace safety has vastly improved with work-related fatalities reduced by 63%. To put these figures into context, at the time OSHA was signed into existence around 14,000 workers were killed in the US every year, and by 2018 this annual figure was 5,250. In addition, the rate of workplace injuries and illness also fell from a rate of 10.9 per 100 workers in 1972 to 2.8 per 100 workers in 2018.[1]

Whilst these numbers are a dramatic reduction compared to their 1970s counterparts, they are still incredibly high, and OSHA recognises that more needs to be done to further reduce these figures. The third leading cause of work-related injuries treated in an emergency room were falls and slips and trips without a fall. In fact, 18% of the 1,176,340 nonfatal work injuries in 2020 resulting in days away from work were due to slips, trips, and falls.[2] Compensation and medical costs associated with employee slip and fall accidents is around $70bn annually – in context, compensation for falls account for 16% of all claims and 26% of all costs. This is not just a fall from height issue; in fact, falls on the same level equate to 60% of all compensable fall cases, whilst falls from an elevation equal around 40% of compensable cases.[3]

So, what does this mean for businesses?

The NSC estimates in 2020 that there were 65 million days lost due to injuries with an additional 34 million days lost due to permanently disabling injuries which occurred in previous years.[4]

In addition to lost days, compensation costs for falls or slips average at $48,575 per claim and are behind only motor vehicles and burns in relative costs.[5] For every day lost, there are numerous other costs such as agency fees to cover staff shortages, and recruiting and training costs for new employees – overall OSHA[6] estimates these direct and indirect costs amount to almost $1 billion per week.

Preventing slips and trips at work is then, still a huge problem for the US workforce and is still a pressing issue for businesses as an accident within the workplace can be a trigger for an OSHA inspection. OSHA rules can be particularly impactful on businesses with chain stores; a violation in one store can lead to violations in other stores being treated as a wilful repeated violation and with costs of $145,027[7] per violation noted. OSHA states that a violation is wilful where employers demonstrate “either an intentional disregard for the requirements of the OSH (Occupational Safety and Health) Act or a plain indifference to its requirements.” To further qualify this, OSHA explains that a wilful repeated violation can be strongly penalised if “an employer knows that specific steps must be taken to address a hazard, but substitutes its own judgement for the requirements of the legal standard”[8].

The intention of such fines is clear from OSHA in that they should function as enough of a deterrent from allowing hazards to remain wilfully. By increasing the repeat violation timeframe to 5 years this also allows OSHA greater scope to impose hard penalties on businesses that fail to comply with workplace health and safety laws, thus making an example of those not complying. Further, a strong message is sent to all businesses that an inspection could happen at any time, with serious repercussions.

How can we prevent slips trips and falls in the workplace?

Slips, trips, and falls remain stubbornly hard to prevent some reasons for these are outlined here, such as the human risk perception being low – this is particularly the case when the fall happens on the same level[9]. However, it does not need to be this way and there is more that can be done to reduce the frequency of these accidents and therefore reduce the impact on individuals and businesses.

In addition to the wilful violations, there is also complacency to manage[10] – assumptions that serious risks have already been mitigated can cause businesses serious issues with both safety and fines. Whilst companies can say they have trained employees, should accidents happen the culpability remains with the business leaving them open to claims and fines.

OSHA[11] outlines a number of ways for avoiding slips trips and falls in the workplace, including some of the following training suggestions for employees

  • Clean up or report spills straight away
  • Be extra cautious on smooth surfaces and on loose carpeting
  • Ensure you can see where you are walking – do not carry loads you cannot see over
  • Store materials and supplies in the appropriate storage areas
  • Keep walkways clear of obstructions

These are all simple points to ensure employees are mindful of, and yet due to general human risk perception being low, it is clear that employees need to be reminded of health and safety on a more regular basis. How then do businesses do this in a meaningful way that will both improve workplace safety and additionally reduce their losses?

How can SpillDetect® help businesses?

SpillDetect® developed in partnership by SeeChange and Ocucon, continually monitors areas for slip hazards. In addition, notifications – customised to use existing communication channels – are delivered in real time to employees so that swift preventative action can be taken. Furthermore, the critical business insights provided around hazards can be recorded and reviewed for a full audit trail in line with compliance requirements, improving occupational health & safety through deployment of workplace technology.

Can workplace injuries be prevented?

We can see from the implementation of OSHA in 1970 that workplace injuries and fatalities have reduced over time, workplaces are better at assessing and managing risks. We know, therefore that workplace injuries can be prevented, however there is more work to be done. SeeChange delivers a machine learning solution that improves on the necessary diligence of humans to be in the right place at the right time to spot the hazards and help to prevent injury.

Who benefits from reducing workplace injuries?

The simple fact is that everyone will benefit from the reduction of workplace injuries. From the individuals who could avoid life altering injuries, to the businesses saving hundreds of thousands of dollars, the cost, whether human or monetary, is high and everyone stands to benefit the improvement of safety conditions.