We spend billions of dollars every year on bushfire mitigation, which is not necessarily inappropriate, and everyone fears snakes and sharks. However, did you know that “simple” slip and trip falls* kill and injure far more Australians every year than snakes, sharks and bushfires combined.
* Falls on stairs and from the same level, excluding falls from height.
Slip and trip falls kill more Australians than bushfires every year
Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC) estimate that slip and trip falls kill three times more Australians than bushfires, but we all know which risk attracts the most media and political attention and funding.
Here some more interesting statistics from MUARC:
- Falls account for a staggering 30 percent of Australian accident fatalities.
- Half of fall hospitalisations involve slips and trips on the same level.
- 80 percent of falls on stairs involve a miss-step while descending; and
- 30 percent of people over 70 years will fall annually.
The facts above provide some valuable tips on where to focus attention to minimise fall and injury risks.
Slips vs Trips
So, what do we mean by slip and trip? Below are simple working definitions:
Slips - Occur when a person’s foot loses traction with the floor surface eg polished, wet or greasy floor surface and or footwear.
Trips – Occur when a person unexpectedly catches their foot on an obstruction which holds the foot long enough to cause them to over-balance (fall) eg protruding item, lip, loose pavers, cables on floor or hole.
We need to have adequate coefficient of friction between floor surfaces and footwear, but since we can’t control footwear in public areas standards concentrate on coefficient of friction of floor surfaces.
Standards for Slip Avoidance:
- AS 3661 Slip Resistance of Pedestrian Surfaces
- AS 4586 Classification of New Pedestrian Materials
- AS 4663 Measuring Existing Pedestrian Surfaces
There is equipment and specialist firms who can measure and certify your critical floor surfaces are compliant with relevant standard(s).
a) Floor Surfaces (<5mm lip)
Australian standard AS 1657 specifies variation in height between floor boards or plates must not exceed 5mm.
b) External Pathways (<10mm lip)
For outdoor paths and walkways 5mm is desirable, but generally not reasonably practical. Research in the US indicates that lips exceeding 10mm are more likely to hold the foot and cause a fall, and many Australian local councils have adopted this standard or similar for their public paths.
Unsafe Path Costs $120,000
A recent case in the Townsville Magistrates Court featured a concreting company who was charged with a breach of the WHS Act.
This unfortunate case involved an elderly lady using a walking frame who fell when a wheel went over the edge of the path and sustained serious injuries. She died 20 days later.
The details of the alleged negligence included the concreting company was engaged to widen a pathway at an aged-care facility, and they failed to protect the excavated edge, despite being told by the facility manager to ensure adequate safety barriers around the works area.
The concreting company did not implement any control measures for the trip and fall risks created by their works. They were fined $120,000.
How serious are your facility and operational managers about slip and trip hazards, particularly in walkways and entrances? If in doubt arrange an independent assessment.