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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5 thoughts on “Avoiding slips and falls when it’s icy or wet out

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  2. Ralph Kleinsmith

    Thank you for the read….
    We have 1,100 employees that are inside for 8-9 hours during there shift and when they end there shift and walk outside, they are not aware or alert to any change of weather conditions outside. We send out emails but as you know, they are not always read. When it is slick outside, we were thinking of posting information at the exit doors to make the employees aware of slick conditions on sidewalks, parking lots, and city streets. Similar concept to the beaches when there is a hurricane warning or sever rip tide. Maybe place something on the push bars to exit that informs them of “Be careful of icy conditions” ..walk like a penguin. Are you aware of any one that does something like this and is it effective or is it a waste of effort? Thank you

    Reply
    1. Susan Post author

      Sounds like a great idea to put up a reminder for people before they go outside. Personally, I haven’t heard about anyone doing this — but maybe someone else has. Anyone else? Please do tell. Otherwise, you could have a look at this Slips, trips, and falls in manufacturing. Thanks for commenting — and I wish you a safe and happy holiday season! 🙂

      Reply
  3. Ralph Kleinsmith

    Thank you for the read….
    We have 1,100 employees that are inside for 8-9 hours during there shift and when they end there shift and walk outside, they are not aware or alert to any change of weather conditions outside. We send out emails but as you know, they are not always read. When it is slick outside, we were thinking of posting information at the exit doors to make the employees aware of slick conditions on sidewalks, parking lots, and city streets. Similar concept to the beaches when there is a hurricane warning or sever rip tide. Maybe place something on the push bars to exit that informs them of “Be careful of icy conditions” ..walk like a penguin. Are you aware of any one that does something like this and is it effective or is it a waste of effort? Thank you

    Reply
  4. Ram

    Hello Susan:
    Your article here is of great interest to me. I am a safety officer in a large Federal organization with lots of outdoor workers. Winter months are our biggest challenge with many slips/trips/falls incidents. The thing is, incidents do occur to anyone who simply do not make adjustments when conditions change; whether you are driving, walking or performing any activity for that matter, where there is exposure to these changing conditions.
    So why is it that difficult to understand the reason people still slip/trip/fall? It would be binary thinking to simply say use a particular type of shoe/boots, take your time, balance and even walk like a penguin. Our ‘living’ momentum does not change and neither are we prepared to change or make the necessary seasonal adjustments. We continue to move at the same pace even with all the added distractions of the era. Work methods remain the same and so too are the desired expectations. We still want to accomplish more in least time. In other words, the world expect us to change when physical conditions change without considering the need for other commensurate changes.
    With all the above, my advice to outdoor workers and anyone for that matter, is to examine the consequences of a fall and weigh that against the other demands of their normal life and make the choice. Starting your days earlier and going to bed earlier, perhaps, so that you get the time for the ‘penguin’ much slower walks! Ensure that you are prepared and have the best winter footwear and know that balance is the key to standing and walking and life for that matter; bearing in mind that no organization is looking into their work processes, for instance, to allow for more time and flexibility to get work done. This is not likely to happen soon, so you have to make the adjustments and do so soon, very soon!

    Reply

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