During the winter months, an obvious injury concern is exterior slips, trips, and falls due to icy conditions and inclement weather in general. Now that the warmer spring weather is here (in most places), there can be a tendency to begin focusing on other items, and lose sight of this concern. However, after coming through the winter months, there can be several “lingering” trip and fall hazards on your property, left over from the tough winter months.
Slips, trips, and falls (STFs) are the leading cause of non-fatal, unintentional injuries treated in hospital emergency departments according to the All Injury Program, a cooperative program involving the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and the Centers for Disease Control. According to the National Safety Council, there are 25,000 STF occurrences daily. The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) collects data from multiple providers and estimates non-fatal injuries. They estimate that in 2007 (the most recent year for which the data is available) over 8.9 million people were injured by falls serious enough to seek medical attention.
NCHS tracks falls from elevations, balconies, stairs, escalators, etc. separately. Considering that the numbers cited exclude falls from ladders and elevations, it is easy to grasp the significance of same level STF incidents. Hazardous conditions that contribute to same level STFs include: uneven or slippery walkway surfaces, contaminants on walkways, inadequate lighting, poor housekeeping, inadequate maintenance, poorly designed walkway surfaces, or adverse weather conditions. STF occurrences are not simply related to weather; the data show that deaths from falls are evenly divided by month. So, preventing STF is not a seasonal activity, it requires ongoing, systematic effort to address hazards that could lead to injury.
For many property owners, STF occurrences result in litigation. A person who sustains an injury by falling at a commercial property may claim that the property owner was negligent in their duties to maintain a safe walkway. This claim is considered a premises liability tort. The injured person alleges that there was an unreasonably dangerous condition; that the insured had knowledge of the condition; that the insured failed to reduce or eliminate the condition; and that the failure to use reasonable care was the proximate cause of the injury. These claims and lawsuits are costly.
Property owners need to be familiar with STF hazards and able to look for them, identify them, correct them, and, in some cases, eliminate them.
Several items to consider revisiting after winter and inspecting are:
- Concrete Heaving due to freeze thaw cycle
- Asphalt deterioration / pot holes in the parking lot
- Fading yellow warning paint on curbs
- Frayed carpet mats at entrances and exits
- Inspect exterior lighting for needed bulb replacement
- Inspect gutters to make sure that they do not direct water onto walkways, and are in good repair
- Ensure that designated walkways direct foot traffic to the safest direction (i.e., away from traffic)
- Inspect to ensure that pedestrian ramps have adequate grab rails and are in good repair
- Ensure that “speed bumps” are clearly designated and in good repair. (Unless these are absolutely necessary to control traffic speed, consider eliminating them, to reduce tripping hazard risk).
- Wheel Stops – these are common in parking areas along sidewalks, and can be a tripping hazard because they are not immediately obvious to the driver when exiting the vehicle. If these are present, consider painting them conspicuous color and ensure that they are in good repair.
- Consider establishing a frequent inspection plan to ensure that the property remains in good condition, and the above items, and any others known to exist, are controlled as best as possible
This post was written by Mike Almes, a Risk Control Consultant based in our northeast Ohio service office. Mike is a regular contributor to our Risk Factors blog.