Falling Flat: American Businesses Lose Billions to Slips and Falls

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To say fiscal year 2012 were a disappointment for American business owners would be an understatement. The Great American Recession ended in June 2009, according to Forbes Magazine contributor and economic commentator James K. Glassman (i). Yet recovery from this recession has taken much longer than most expected.

“Our current recovery pales in comparison with […] the one following the Great Depression,” argues Stanford professor of economics, Edward P. Lazear, contrasting the lackluster economic rebound of 2009-12 with the economic boom that occurred 1934-37 (ii). While there are a number of significant variables that account for the difference between then and now, one thing is certain: American businesses cannot afford to overlook financial losses, particularly when the cause is easily prevented. According to a new report issued by the Liberty Mutual Research Institute, however, it seems that American businesses think they can.

Workplace slip-and-fall accidents cost American business owners an estimated $13 billion in 2010, according to the research institute’s 2012 Workplace Safety Index (iii). An annual report, the Index combines data from Liberty Mutual workers compensation insurance claims, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and the National Academy of Social Insurance to provide estimates for the most prominent causes of accidents that occur on the job. According to the report, slip-and-fall accidents are classified in two ways, “fall on same level” and “fall to lower level,” which cost business owners approximately $8.61 billion and $5.12 billion, respectively.

Most disturbing is the fact that 2010 was not an atypically bad year for American businesses. According to the report, the real cost of “fall on same level” accidents increased by an estimated 42.3% between 1998-2010, amounting to nearly $2 billion. This is particularly alarming given that the overall real cost of all workplace accidents actually decreased by about 4.7% over that same period.

These numbers indicate that businesses have made strides in preventing other types of workplace accidents, like those caused by overexertion or falling objects. However, the number of employees injured by simple slip-and-fall accidents, particularly those that occur on flat ground, has seen tremendous growth since 1998.

Reversing the Trend: Preventing Slips and Falls in 2013 and Beyond

For most business owners, preventing slips and falls is as simple as performing a workplace risk assessment to identify what has the greatest potential to cause an accident. After identifying areas of potential hazard, businesses may then determine whether current safety products, protocols, and other resources are adequate in preventing an accident.

According to HSE.gov, there are 5 steps to performing a safety assessment (iv):

1. Identify the hazards.

To identify hazards, perform a facility walk-through to observe all areas that are instrumental to daily operations. Ask employees for input, and be sure to check the operating instructions and specifications sheets for machinery that might be dangerous while operated.

2. Decide who might be harmed, and how.

While identifying the hazards, consider how employees may come into contact with dangerous workplace elements. It is also wise to consider how other facility guests, like customers, may likewise encounter hazards. With these individuals in mind, visualize how an accident may occur. Then, brainstorm ways in which that accident could be prevented.

3. Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions.

When it comes to deciding on ways to reduce the risk of slip and fall accidents, pay particular attention to the texture and gradient of floor surfaces. For smooth floors, consider installing safety matting that provides added grip, liquid drainage, or fatigue relief, as needed. To eliminate tripping hazards, consider resurfacing uneven floors, or cover the uneven transitions with a safety mat of ¼” to 3/8”.

4. Record your findings and implement them.

This step is essential when it comes to benchmarking performance. By recording findings prior to implementation, businesses are able to measure the effectiveness a particular safety solution (see #5 below).

5. Review the assessment, and update when needed.

Upon review, take note of safety precautions that adequately eliminate the hazard in question. For those that fall short, it is recommended that business owners and risk managers conduct another risk assessment to brainstorm additional ways in which accidents can be prevented.

Proactive risk assessment is an essential component of today’s workplace. In addition to reducing insurance costs, accident prevention has potential savings in other areas of operations. Implementing floor mats and recessed grill systems to reduce slip and fall accidents, for example, may have a significant impact on improving indoor air quality (IAQ), employee health, and job satisfaction. The implementation of signs, handrails, and other safety products may also translate to long-term cost savings by reducing employee injury, turnover, and new employee training. With a marginal up-front investment of time and capital, American businesses have the potential to significantly reduce the annual cost of slip and fall accidents.

About the Author

Elizabeth Ira is a marketing representative and public relations specialist for Eagle Mat and Floor Products. A Maryland-based company, Eagle Mat proudly represents the finest in commercial matting and facility safety products. The company is actively involved in the sale and rental of matting, safety flooring, and other products that help businesses deliver the highest quality of service to clients, patrons, and employees alike.

Website: Eagle Mat and Floor Products

Blog: Eagle Mat Blog

Sources:

(i) Glassman, James K. “Let’s Be Clear, The U.S. Economy Is Just Awful.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 31 July 2012. Web. 26 June 2013.

(ii) Lazear, Edward P. “The Worst Economic Recovery in History.” Wsj.com. Wall Street Journal, n.d. Web.

(iii) “2012 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index.” Libertymutualgroup.com. Liberty Mutual Research Institute, n.d. Web.

(iv) “5 Steps to Risk Assessment.” Hse.gov. Health & Safety Executive, n.d. Web.

(Image Credit: © Bobo – Fotolia.com)

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