We have all seen the videos. A person stands on a loose shoelace or piece of clothing as they are walking, and falls flat on their face. In cold countries, we witness people helplessly falling over on an icy surface. In some movies and TV Shows, there is the classic “slipping on a banana” gag. Is this all just a bit of harmless fun? Unfortunately not.

What is seen as a trivial issue can actually be very serious, with the potential consequences from these incidents including life-changing injuries, even fatalities. So, we need to consider very carefully how to prevent these incidents occurring, or if they do, how we can protect our colleagues from the consequences of slips, trips and falls. First, let us look at the difference between the three terms – “slip”, “trip” and “fall”. Then we can take a deeper look at the causes and consequences, so we can outline the precautions and control measures you can use to help protect your business and colleagues.


A “slip” is an event where the human foot moves unintentionally due to loss of friction between the foot and footwear being used and the surface being walked or stood upon. There are many examples, such as the “slipping on ice” mentioned in the first paragraph, but it could also be due to people slipping on puddles of liquids (such as oil, water, grease, etc) or the surface itself (very smooth surfaces, shifting materials such as sand, etc).


A “trip” can be described as someone losing their balance due to their foot or another part of their leg coming into contact with an obstruction. As the person is moving, their momentum will continue to move the body forward, even though the foot or leg has stopped. Examples of this could be tripping over a trailing cable; accidentally kicking a solid object as you walk past it; or the toes catching the floor, uneven ground, or exposed edges.


A “fall” in this instance can occur due to one of the previous two events happening. This does not necessarily mean people fall from a height, as falls can occur on the same level, e.g. walking along a slippery floor that has just been mopped, slipping and falling to the ground. Again, not every fall will result in people hitting the ground, as they may hit, or rest upon, obstacles on their way down, such as grabbing a handrail whilst falling on stairs, or landing against a table in an office, and so on.


So just how big is this problem? Well, according to the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics for 201820191, of the 581,000 people who suffered a non-fatal injury, 29% – that’s 168,490 or just over 461 every day – were due to slip, trip, fall incidents (in this case the statistics only count falls on the same level). Bear in mind as well, these are only the numbers actually reported to the employer, the real number may be higher.

In 2017-2018, workplace injury was estimated to have cost the UK economy 5.2 billion GBP, a big hit to the bottom line no matter how profitable or large a business is.


So why do these events happen? Is it simply carelessness from people, or does poor practice and management play a part?


One of the most common reasons for slip, trip, fall incidents is the presence of obstructions in areas where people are moving or working. In homes with children, a big issue is toys being left on stairs, doorways and floors. Pets such as cats and dogs can often also inadvertently become an obstacle for their human family members. An example at work could be workers using lifting equipment such as forklifts having the intention of temporarily putting a load down somewhere and moving it into its proper place at a later stage. This means items can often be forgotten, and left in pedestrian walkways, emergency exits and so on. Another example is that there are many tasks that often involve the use of various pieces of equipment, which can lead to items such as electrical cables and hoses being left trailing across a floor or surface. This can lead to people kicking these items, or even falling over simply trying to get around/over them.

Uneven surfaces

Another common issue is problems with the surface that people walk upon.

Damage such as holes and cracks can not only cause the initial incident to happen, but also be the cause of injuries which may not have otherwise been suffered; for example, someone trips over damaged tiles, and the sharp edge of the damaged tiles cuts open the skin of the leg. Surfaces can also collapse under the weight of a person, due to a lack of strength; or maybe deterioration of integrity due to lack of maintenance, leading to falls into voids and open spaces. Common examples are people falling from height as they try to walk across a fragile roof, or people falling down stairways as the handrail they are using for balance fails. Surfaces can also be contaminated with dirt, grease, fluid and other materials that could cause people to slip over on what then becomes a friction less surface.


Footwear issues are another area of concern. Workers often use footwear that is not compatible with a surface, or they use footwear incorrectly. Sometimes laces or other fastenings on the footwear can come loose, becoming the cause of the slip/trip/fall. Poor quality footwear can also cause problems through rapid deterioration, with failures including grips and soles completely separating from the rest of the footwear, or parts of the foot being exposed to hazards due to holes and splits in the footwear. Ask yourself, would you rather spend $30 per employee for 100 employees for their boots, or be fined almost $300,000 for breaking law by having these employees get hurt?2

Carring too much

Carrying objects is also a common problem that leads to slip, trip, fall incidents. This can be because people are trying to carry too much, and therefore cannot see where they are putting their feet, e.g. carrying three boxes one stacked on top of another. It can also be due to people dropping items, leading to the person falling over those items. Workers being distracted by use of mobile phones and other electronic devices whilst they are walking and moving is a very modern cause of slips, trips and falls.

Working environment

t The working environment can also directly contribute to the issue of slip, trip, fall incidents. Poor lighting can hide obstructions and dangerous areas, which could also be hidden due to the presence of mists, fogs and vapours in the atmosphere. Cold temperatures can cause ice to build up on surfaces, whereas hot temperatures can lead to problems with workers having difficulty concentrating through fatigue. Layout can also be a problem. Offices, rooms, corridors and so on can be too narrow and congested for the number of people using them. Stairways can be very steep (such as on a ship), or individual steps can be too small to place a full foot on them.