Avoiding slips and falls when it’s icy or wet out

Take an icy cold snap, add lots of rain, and up goes the risk of slipping and falling. How can people walk more safely while at work and in the community? 

Photo of a penguin walking

Photo credit: iStock.com/fieldwork

One night, during B.C.’s intense 2017 winter season, I found my neighbour’s phone on the ground, beside the path and under a tree. I found out later she had lost the phone when she slipped on the icy ground, fell, and broke her wrist – one of many people injured this way.

“Ankle fractures, sprained wrists, head injuries in people that are otherwise in good health – they’re all from these slips and falls. It’s very treacherous for people out there,” said a paramedic quoted in this 2017 CBC news story on how Vancouver’s icy conditions resulted in an increase in fall-related injuries.

But slipping and falling isn’t just a winter problem. It also happens in spring – both outdoors and indoors – because of all the melting snow and ice, not to mention all the rain. Here are a few recent examples of slip/fall incidents in B.C. workplaces:

  • A worker entered a building from the parking lot on a wet and snowy day. The worker stomped and wiped both feet on a mat, then stepped onto the floor, slipped, and fell backward.
  • A worker slipped on snow-covered ice while walking to his vehicle at the end of his shift.
  • A community care worker was on her way to a home visit. She slipped on an icy public sidewalk, striking her head and losing consciousness.

Walk like a penguin?

Ideally, people will shovel snow from walkways and mop water from floors. But if they don’t, how can people stay safe and avoid slipping? I saw one interesting suggestion on Twitter from the Dublin Fire Brigade: “Do the penguin walk! Walking like a penguin in compacted snow and ice will help prevent slips, trips and falls.”

Then I found this video (posted below) from Alberta Health Services. Here’s their description of how to walk like a penguin:

  • Bend slightly and walk flat footed
  • Point your feet out slightly like a penguin
  • Keep your centre of gravity over your feet as much as possible
  • Watch where you are stepping
  • Take shorter, shuffle-like steps
  • Keep your arms at your sides (not in your pockets!)
  • Concentrate on keeping your balance
  • Go S-L-O-W-L-Y

Following in the footsteps of these experienced – and adorable – ice walkers is a great idea any time you’re on slippery ground.

How slip-resistant is your footwear?

See how slip-resistant your footwear is at Rate My Treads, a website based on research done by the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute – University Health Network’s WinterLab. You can read more about the study in New ‘snowflake’ scale to rate slip-resistance. The Institute’s research director Geoff Fernie says: “I expect that many serious and life-changing injuries will be prevented this winter by people choosing to buy better non-slip footwear.”

Also see this information from WorkSafeBC about slips, trips, and falls and how to avoid them at work. Do you have any suggestions to share?

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