An Ounce of Prevention and a Ton of Snow

Putting Slips, Trips, and Falls on Ice

Slips, trips, and falls (STFs) are some of the most common workplace injuries. The worst of these usually happen right at the onset of winter. This suggests that the majority of us may not be prepared for that first serious snow that sweeps through Colorado. STFs have been one of the Pool’s top causes of loss for years, resulting in millions of dollars of medical bills.

Preventing STFs requires more than simply telling your team to watch their step. The best thing you can do is educate your staff on proper winter footwear, providing them with traction aids, ensuring your offices and parking lots are clear of snow and ice, and maintaining good housekeeping. STFs can lead to a myriad of injuries, and can be particularly detrimental for districts without personnel to fill-in for injured employees.

The Human Factor

Everyone has taken a fall at some point in their lives, and we all know it can hurt a lot more than your pride. Let’s take the case of an average employee that we will call Frank. Frank is the kind of person who always does his job, is always on time, and always goes the extra mile. Frank wakes up one cold January morning to see that 5 inches of snow has fallen overnight.

Like every Coloradan, Frank knows he needs to be out the door two hours early if he wants to be at work on time. Snow makes for slow traffic, and Frank is all about being on time. But because this storm was a surprise, Frank is running late, so he steps out of his car and hurries to the office. On his way, he slips on the slick snow and breaks his wrist.

Once Frank is treated at the hospital, his district starts an incident investigation to determine just what happened. As they examine the incident, they discover a host of reasons why the injury occurred:

  • Frank was rushing to work
  • The parking lot had not been cleared of snow and ice
  • The district had no official training on avoiding slips, trips, and falls
  • Frank wasn’t paying enough attention to his surroundings
  • The district did not have a policy that relaxed or waived punctuality requirements during inclement weather
  • There was no official policy on using personal protective equipment like shoe traction

Olivia, Frank’s supervisor, realizes that while it is tempting to write this off as a case of bad luck, the truth is this incident could have been easily avoided. She realizes that while the guest parking area and entry way were cleared of snow, the employee parking lot was not.

It becomes clear to Olivia that no one at her district holds responsibility to make sure the employee parking lot is clear of snow, and that itself is the actual problem. The slip hazards are simply the result.

Olivia also notes that the boots Frank was wearing had been purchased for him by the district more than a year before. They were very old, and very worn out. Her district happens to have a policy of paying for new work boots for every employee every two years. Frank was trying to make his pair of free boots last, and that wound up costing both him and the district dearly. In retrospect, she realizes that it would have made more financial sense to change to an annual boot-buy program.

The bottom line, as far as Olive was concerned, was that the district had missed a lot of opportunities to prevent this incident, and needed to form a plan to proactively respond to inclement weather in the future.

In Colorado, it is not a matter of if the snow will hit, but when and how hard. Take a moment and consider these questions:

  • Does your district have ice melt and a snow shovel?
  • Do you have a procedure in place for clearing snow before everyone else shows up for work?
  • Have you covered slips, trips, and falls with your employees and talked about snow day procedures?
  • Have you purchased ice cleats or other traction footwear for your employees?

Bring these questions to your next safety committee meeting. Ask your staff to help come up with a list of STF “hotspots” that you can address proactively.

Remember that you probably have Safety and Loss Prevention Grant funds to help cover the cost of traction footwear and other STF solutions. These types of injuries don’t just happen every winter, they happen every day. Gordon Graham, CEO and founder of Lexipol, said that “Predictable is preventable.” Given how predictably common these events are, we should be working to prevent them every day.

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