When asked to identify workplace hazards, people tend to recall extreme situations, such as collapsed mines or chemical explosions – incidents that make front-page headlines. Yet statistics show that employees face the greatest risk from falls, which can occur in any workplace – including yours.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Injuries, Illnesses, and Fatalities program, falls make up a significant percentage of nonfatal injuries in the workplace. Since 2003, the BLS has recorded approximately one quarter of a million nonfatal injuries per year that have resulted from employee falls in the workplace. In 2006, the BLS reported 151,750 nonfatal injuries from employee falls that caused them to miss work. Additionally, the BLS reported almost 800 employees died in 2006 due to a workplace fall.

Although falls can occur almost anywhere, some workplaces, by their very nature, pose a greater risk of falls than others. Food service establishments certainly fall within this category, particularly in back-of-the-house areas such as kitchens and storage rooms. Many of the risk factors for falls are found in food service establishments: frequent spills, slippery floors, and hurrying employees.

The good news is that the risk of falls in food service establishments can be significantly reduced, if not eliminated, by implementing a slip prevention program that includes the following elements:

  • Slip-Resistant Flooring: Slips and falls occur most often when an individual loses traction on a slick floor. The degree of traction afforded by a particular flooring surface can be measured by calculating the surface’s coefficient of friction. A higher coefficient of friction means more traction. Based on a study performed by the University of Michigan, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) noted that a coefficient of friction of 0.5 is recommended as a baseline for effective slip resistance. However, according to OSHA, a higher coefficient of friction may be necessary in certain workplaces. Thus, a food service establishment should consider installing flooring surfaces that provide the highest possible coefficient of friction for that workplace
  • Floor Coverings Made of Non-Slip Materials: Non-slip matting or floor coverings should be placed in all areas that routinely get wet. Areas exposed to oily or greasy substances, such as the floor around stoves and deep fryers, may require special matting specifically designed to maintain a high coefficient of friction even when these areas become greasy. Establishments that cannot afford to install slip-resistant flooring can use non-slip matting or floor coverings that provide better traction. And even workplaces that have slip-resistant flooring should use non-slip matting in areas regularly exposed to water or other slick substances.
  • An Appropriate Footwear Policy: Food service establishments should require that staff members wear slip-resistant shoes that provide a high coefficient of friction. The appropriate slip-resistant footwear may depend on the type of flooring surface in the establishment, so employers should determine which type of footwear is most suited to their workplace and make it a part of an employee’s required uniform.
  • Clean, Dry Walking Surfaces: OSHA regulations regarding walking surfaces require that employers keep floors clean and dry at all times, which can be accomplished by having in place a procedure for regular cleaning and drying of wet walkways. Additionally, an establishment’s maintenance policy should require the immediate cleanup of all spills. Employees must be trained in the proper methods of cleaning slick or oily surfaces and should be provided with the proper cleaning materials, such as warm water, brushes, wet/dry vacuum cleaners, and degreasing solvents.
  • Prominently Placed Warning Signs: In the hurried environment of a commercial kitchen, immediate cleanup may not always be possible. In such instances, signs that warn patrons and employees of wet floors or dangerous conditions should be used.
  • Sensible Service Policies: Anyone who has ever worked in a food service establishment knows that customers want their food immediately. However, harried employees under pressure to serve food and beverages quickly are at a significantly higher risk of falling themselves or of inadvertently increasing the risk of fall for others by spilling food or beverages they are carrying. Establishments must make sure that service policies encourage employees not to sacrifice safety for speed.
  • Consistent Rule Enforcement: It’s a given that anti-slip policies will protect employees and patrons only if rules are consistently enforced. Non-slip matting is useless if it is not properly placed, cleaned, and maintained. Warning signs serve no purpose if they are not placed when and where they are needed or if they have been left out so long that they are routinely ignored. And if employees are not reprimanded for wearing the wrong shoes, then a safe footwear policy becomes meaningless. Maintaining a safe workplace requires vigilance. Employees who repeatedly fail to abide by the rules created to protect them must be retrained, and, when necessary, appropriately disciplined

Workplace slips and falls can have dire consequences, resulting in serious, even fatal, injuries to employees, as well as damage to employers in the form of increased employee turnover, declines in productivity, and increased workers’ compensation costs. When employers make a coordinated and consistent effort to reduce the risk of slips and falls in the workplace, the benefits to both employees and the business itself exceed the costs associated with implementing fall prevention practices.