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Distractions Contribute to Slip, Trip and Fall Injuries

  • Published
  • 12 June 2023
  • Category
  • General

A dog can be trained not to chase squirrels. Trainers recommended distracting the dog with a loud noise, hiding treats in the yard, taking a walk on a leash or playing catch.

Employees with a tendency to “chase squirrels,” meaning they are easily distracted, can’t be trained with distractions. Instead, they need to be reminded about situational awareness to ensure their safety and help prevent slips, trips and falls, which are leading causes of injuries.

Work-related slips, trips and falls are so common that the National Safety Council has singled them out for attention during the second week of National Safety Month. Slipping and falling can cause injuries such as sprains, strains, concussions, fractures, abrasions and lacerations. Serious falls can result in cognitive impairment, permanent physical disability or death.

Many factors increase slip, trip and fall risk, including one’s age, eyesight, balance and overall physical health. External hazards include uneven, slippery or slanted surfaces; working at height and changes in elevation; hidden objects or clutter; darkness or dimly lit areas; carrying awkward loads; climbing ladders or stairs; extreme weather conditions; and entering and exiting buildings or vehicles.

The human tendency to get distracted or downplay these routine types of exposure risks is a significant underlying reason for slip, trip and fall accidents, injuries and fatalities.

Dealing With Pressure

Employees with busy lives often feel under pressure to get things done on the job and in their personal lives. Consequently, many Americans have become skilled at multi-tasking. While there may be feelings of pride associated with the ability to multi-task, a corresponding sense of invincibility creates the potential for physical injury and the development of stress-related conditions such as depression, anxiety, headaches, stomach upsets and fatigue due to sleep loss.

Consider this: Most people know it’s inadvisable to text while driving or walking, eat and work simultaneously without taking a break, or play with young children while listening to a podcast, checking email or shopping online. Yet, they still do it. Some adults get so over-extended that they are no longer punctual. They may rely on substances to remain alert, miss recommended medical appointments or not get enough exercise.

Reducing Distractions

Here are some suggestions for employers to help reduce distractions that affect employee performance, health and safety.

  1. Identify vulnerabilities and implement appropriate measures to minimize or eliminate distractions without violating employees’ rights. For example, some companies prohibit or place limits on web access, texting and personal phone calls during work hours. Check applicable labor laws.
  2. Ensure employees take mandatory breaks during the workday and encourage them to use available time off for personal pursuits. (Studies show many Americans do not use all of their vacation days.)
  3. Designate specific areas where employees can engage in personal activities such as using electronic devices without disturbing others.
  4. Reduce noise, as feasible. Solutions may include sound-proof rooms, earplugs or noise-canceling headphones, quiet zones and low-volume background music. (The 9thS. Circuit Court of Appeals recently ruled in favor of employees who complained that their employer created a hostile work environment by playing loud, offensive music. The company said the music was motivational.)
  5. Within reason, limit interruptions. For example, allow use of silent modes and do-not-disturb indicators on devices. Schedule specific times for email messaging and meetings.
  6. Provide training on effective time management and stress-reduction techniques such as deep breathing. These are learned behaviors.
  7. Keep workspaces clean and provide ways for employees to organize tools, materials and computer files. Disorganization is distracting and time-consuming.

Employers who support total worker health on and off the job lay a solid foundation for employees to recognize and eliminate distractions that are underlying causes of slips, trips, falls and other types of accidents.

For additional guidance, contact WorkCare’s occupational health and safety subject matter experts.