Falls in the Workplace

Falls in the workplace
Workplace injuries due to falls

Written By: Dr. Jassin Jouria

A 67-year-old female is brought to the Emergency Room after accidentally tripping on a cable wire while trying to stock inventory at work. She fell over and landed on her left side. She complained of severe left shoulder pain that felt better when she supported her left arm and kept it close to her body. Paramedics immobilized the left upper arm with a temporary sling and brought her to the hospital where then ER physician immediately order plain film X-rays of her left clavicle, shoulder, and arm. X-rays revealed a dislocated left shoulder, but no fractures. The ER physician planned for conscience sedation and reduction of the left shoulder dislocation.

Falls in Workplace- Some Statistics 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics published data related to workplace falls in 2014. According to the statistics, more than 260,000 workers missed one day or more of work due to injuries sustained from a fall. What’s shocking is that around 800 people lost their lives due to such falls.

Workplace falls represent a tremendous financial burden. In the US, the annual medical costs from occupational falls exceed $70 billion.

Most of these falls are due to avoidable circumstances. Adequate safety measures and following strict protocols can help reduce the risk of occupational falls.

Who is at Most Risk of Workplace Falls?

Individuals working in the construction industry are most prone to fall-related injuries and death. The professions most likely to experience falls and related adverse events are:

  • Workers in the construction-related jobs
  • Healthcare professionals, especially healthcare support professionals
  • Individuals involved in building cleaning and maintenance
  • Workers in the transportation industry
  • Workers involved in the packaging and shipping of items

What Does the Law Say?

All countries including countries in the European Union, USA, Canada, etc. have laws protecting employees from work-related injuries. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), employers have a legal duty to:

  • Provide a safe working environment to their employees.
  • To keep the floors clean and dry.
  • To select and provide protective equipment to the workers at no added costs.
  • To train the employees about occupational hazards and educate them in a language they understand.
  • To ensure the workers have access to occupational health facilities.
Falls in the workplace
Falls in the workplace

How do Occupational Falls Take Place?

According to the Canadian Center for Occupational Health and Safety, 70% of falls occur due to slips and trips at the same level. Another 30% of falls occur due to falls from heights.

  • Slips: Slips happen when there is little friction between the floor and the footwear. The common causes are:
    • Occasional spills on the floor
    • Wet surfaces that are properly dried
    • Loose rugs, carpets, or mats
    • Weather-related hazards
  • Trips: Trips occur when a person collides with an object and loses balance. The common causes of trips are:
    • Uneven surfaces (such as steps)
    • Unclear and obstructed view
    • Obstructed or cluttered way
    • Poor lighting
  • Falls from Heights: If you work at heights of more than 10 feet, you are prone to experience falls from heights. These falls commonly occur from:
    • Roofs
    • Ladders
    • Stairs
    • Jumping down a level
    • Machinery operating at heights

What are the Common Injuries From Falls in the Workplace?

The nature and severity of injury from a fall depend on the exact circumstances. A fall from a height can lead to serious injuries compared to tripping on an object. Similarly, slipping and falling backward can have significant effects on the back. Injuries can be grave if the fall is not cushioned and you fall onto some sharp or pointed object.

The most common injuries resulting from workplace falls are musculoskeletal injuries. The most common musculoskeletal injury is back pain. It can have lasting effects on the quality of life. Other injuries can include broken bones, muscle sprains, and ligament tears.

What can be Done to Prevent Falls in the Workplace? 

As mentioned, employers have a legal duty to create a safe working environment for their employees. At the same time, employees should also practice due diligence to avoid workplace falls.

Following are some measures that you can take to prevent slips, trips, and falls from a height:

  • Housekeeping is crucial. All the spills or wet floors should be cleaned immediately. Wet areas should be marked to alert the employees.
  • Areas commonly in use should be kept clear of obstacles.
  • Loose mats, rugs, and carpets should be secured.
  • Cabinets, storage drawers, and table drawers should be closed properly.
  • The working areas should be well lit at all times.
  • If working on heights, safety equipment such as harnesses, ropes, and buckles should be inspected regularly.
  • The employees should be safety certified if working on heights.
  • All employees should get safety training regularly to raise their awareness about the potential causes of workplace falls and how to deal with them.

What to do if someone Suffers a Workplace Fall?

Despite all the precautions, people might still fall at a workplace. What to do if you or someone you see suffers an occupational fall?

Below are a few things that you can do:

  • If you are there to help someone, make sure the surroundings are safe before you can engage. If the surroundings are not safe, you can make things worse by compromising your safety and the safety of your co-worker.
  • If you or someone has experienced a fall then try to assess the nature and intensity of the damage. If you manage to get up or help your co-worker get up and get away from the site of fall you can continue to do so. However, if you can not get up, have severe pain, or can not move certain body parts then do not try to move the person. Instead, immediately seek medical assistance. If someone has experienced an injury due to a fall then trying to mobilize them can make the injury worse.
  • If you have not gotten away from the fall site, try to assess the extent of the damage. Look for some red flags. These include intense pain, obvious lacerations, bleeding, inability to move an area of the body, or unconsciousness. If these red flags are present, seek medical assistance immediately.
  • If the fall was minor and you only have pain then try icing the affected area. You can take pain relief as well. Still, see a medical professional get properly checked as soon as possible.
  • Report the incident to your employer and the occupational health team. You might need the incident reports if you want to make a claim in the future or require medical assistance. Your employer can use the information to avoid similar situations happening in the future.

How doctors think about falls
Meet the Author Dr. Jassin Jouria
Dr. Jassin Jouria is a practicing Emergency Medicine Physician who specializes in resuscitation of critical patients. The majority of his clinical work is at the Decatur County Memorial Hospital Emergency Department in Greensburg, Indiana. Learn More About the Author.


  1. https://www.ccohs.ca/oshanswers/prevention/ppe/belts.html
  2. https://www.osha.gov/fall-protection
  3. https://www.nsc.org/work-safety/safety-topics/slips-trips-falls
  4. https://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg225.pdf
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24708010/

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