11. Remove the Round Rock

May 24, 2021

Over the years, I have found it interesting how seemingly small hazards can add up to very large Workers Compensation Claims. In my experience, simple things like slips, trips, and falls have generated more claims (in total dollars spent) than larger, more spectacular incidents. Therefore, I have decided to call today’s blog post “Remove the Round Rock”. 

Humans are both surprisingly injury resilient and yet fragile. I have seen people walk away from car wrecks and others with complicated fractured ankles from stepping off a sidewalk curb.  Joints can be surprisingly injury-prone, so much so that any ankle, knee, or shoulder injury on a project gets my immediate attention!   

How do we prevent slips, trips and falls then?  

The first step is to understand why they happen in the first place! The most common mechanism of slipping is when your heel strikes the ground and causes a transfer of body weight to the lead foot, this foot then slips out from under you and you either: 

  • Lose your balance and fall -or- 
  • Regain your balance through some sort of quick opposite motion.  This will often lead to muscle strain, especially when a load is being carried.  My back understands this very well from personal experience! 

The second step is to prevent this by ensuring sufficient traction and removing obstacles. 

Sufficient traction can be attained by a combination of dressing/maintaining the walking surface and by choosing appropriate footwear. In the summer months, be aware of slippery surfaces such as smooth metals and polished concrete, particularly in wet conditions or if there is fine particulate such as sand blown onto the surface.   

Keeping the surfaces swept can go a long way! Make sure your personnel has good sturdy footwear with ankle support and that the treads are not worn out. 

In the winter, we deal with snow and ice. This is harder to manage, but there are some things we can do: 

  • Designate walking paths and keep them well maintained 
  • Larger projects should consider having a sanding/shoveling/maintenance team start prepping the site an hour before other workers arrive
  • Sand is good for general traction but may not be all that helpful on smooth ice. Ice melt or salted sand might be appropriate 
  • Consider traction aids. They do work! Make sure you pick the right kind for the job though.  Metal studs are great for ice and snow but may work against you if you switch to a smooth metal or concrete surface.   

Another major source of slips, trips, and falls are what I call the proverbial round rock… and yes, sometimes it is just that, a round rock.  Anything that can cause the ankle to roll or move. An example being pipes, especially small cut-off pieces of copper plumbing pipe or electrical conduit.  Anyone stepping on these items will literally, go for a ride!   

Of course, the object does not have to be round to present a significant hazard, in a high traffic area, a cut-off piece of 2×4 will eventually catch someone.  Looped cables, cords, and ropes can easily catch a boot as well. 

The solution to the “round rock” problem is simple housekeeping.  Make sure your workforce is in the habit of cleaning up as they go and that they take pride in their work areas.  When a round rock is identified, it should be removed immediately.  I often tell workers that a clean and orderly work area is the hallmark of a professional tradesman! 

Lastly, stairs and ramps can be hazardous if not built correctly.  Watch your ramp angles, steep ramps are better replaced by stairs.  If you place traction on ramps, asphalt materials, for example, make sure they don’t create more hazards than they solve and maintain them in good condition.  Stairs are commonplace objects, but it is amazing how often they are built improperly.  Make sure they are built by someone competent, who installs handrails that meet code and that the rise and run are equal on each stair.   

That is all for this week. Make sure you have the right footwear that provides the right traction, plan your walking paths and remove any hazards you see, especially the round rocks! Another item that can help is to have a good stretch and flex program that develops good proprioception… but that is a blog for another day.