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Are slip-and-falls a design or behavior problem?

In a recent year, there were almost 8 million injuries attributed to falls in the United States, and over 21,700 people lost their lives in fall. For senior citizens older than 72, falls rank number one for injury-related fatalities and come in second as the cause of death for those age 60 to 72. There were 275,000 occupational injuries caused by tripping, slipping and falling on job sites across the nation in 2008.

When a slip-and-fall accident occurs, in order to determine liability, both the individual's behavior and the site of the accident are scrutinized closely. Factors that can influence this decision can include the environmental design of the area, as paths leading to and away from the accident site should be clear and unimpeded.

Safety codes, whether municipal, state or federal, have to be upheld in order to maintain safe premises and job sites for all. Some code violations are immediately observable, but hidden hazards can lurk in the layout and design of a building or business.

It's important that business owners and supervisors account for usage patterns in the placement of ramps, stairs, handrails and in the selection of the surface flooring. It's important to review past reports of injuries and accidents to determine whether the area is a design hazard.

Below are just a few construction and design red flags that can indicate potential hazards on stairs.

-- Doors that open onto stairways

-- Single steps

-- Not having intermediate landings

-- Open railings

-- Bad lighting

-- Stair surfaces made of smooth marble, terrazzo, unmarked bricks or waxed treads

-- Loose padding or carpeting

A key issue in workplace accidents involving trips, slips and falls is that our brains don't perceive a change to the surface or the elevation. Our gait is predicated on a uniform distance once the first step has been taken, so subsequent steps mimic the first stride. Any deviations can cause a person to stumble and fall; 85 percent of accidents that occur on stairs happen with the first or the last trio of steps.

That's the reason why one-step changes to the surface level are particularly hazardous — our brains do not expect or readily perceives these geometric changes. Because human brains seek uniformity, environmental cues should be very visible and evident to ameliorate the danger.

Seeking compensation for work-related falls may be necessary via workers' compensation benefits or civil litigation.

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, "Slips, Trips and Falls: Bad Design or Careless Behavior?," Randy Atlas, Ph.D., AIA, CPP, accessed Aug. 19, 2016

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