While each of our jobs is different, for most of us, walking is part of our workday. Whether it’s walking the factory floor, taking a stroll outside during a break or getting from one meeting to another, we are on our feet at least part of the day. And with all that foot traffic, there is always the potential for a fall.

While walking seems like a simple task, it’s been a leading cause of workplace injuries for many years. Falls happening on the same level, usually due to slipping or tripping, are a leading cause of preventable workplace injuries that lead to time away from work. Just as we watch for more obvious safety risks in our workplaces, we need to also be aware of common walking hazards: distraction, inappropriate footwear and poor housekeeping.

    Recognize the Many Types of Distracted Walking

    The same way cellphones distract us behind the wheel, they also distract us as we walk. You have likely seen the viral videos of people running into walls, falling into mall fountains or tripping over potholes while using phones and wondered how this could ever happen? But distraction can take many forms and happen to all of us. In the workplace, distraction can happen when you’re walking and:

    • Reading a text or any kind of written material
    • Having an intense conversation on the phone or with another person next to you
    • Wearing headphones
    • Rushing too fast, especially in high-traffic areas and around corners
    • Carrying too much in your hands

    To reduce these distractions while on the move:

    • Step to the side with your back to a wall if you need to read something or text, and finish the task before you start to move again.
    • Watch where you are going, so you can see changes in elevation, cracks in flooring and other hazards, such as tracked in snow or other debris.
    • Slow down and anticipate that other people might come into your path.
    • When carrying packages or boxes, don’t let them impede your view.
    • If you can, have both your hands free to help brace yourself should you start to slip or fall.
    • When on the stairs, always have one hand on the handrail.

    Dress for Your Day

    Choosing the proper footwear for your day will likely change depending on your work activity and weather conditions. Always choose footwear that will prevent falls for any given activity or condition. When deciding, ask yourself:

    • Where am I going?
      Strive to have the safest footwear for your work environment, whether that’s steel-toed boots or comfortable shoes with a good grip. If you frequently change environments, such as walking inside and outside or from an office to a shop floor, plan so you always have the footwear you need.
    • What is the weather like?
      On a snowy or rainy day, boots are the best option to get you safely from the parking lot to inside. If needed, consider bringing an alternate pair of shoes to wear during the day. If you work outside, make sure your footwear is sturdy enough to handle all potential environments and terrains you will encounter.
    • Can I evacuate the building quickly if needed?
      You always need to be ready to evacuate a worksite quickly should an emergency arise, and your footwear can play a role in how fast that can be done.

    Keep Your Space Tidy

    Oftentimes a little housekeeping can help prevent falls. These tasks can are important to maintaining a safe and tidy workspace:

    • Keep papers and boxes off the floor and out of walkways.
    • Make sure drawers are always kept closed so no one can run into them.
    • Keep cords properly covered and out of walkways.
    • Ensure proper lighting – if a bulb goes out, be sure to have it changed.
    • Clean up any spills immediately.
    • Never stand on a chair to reach for something high – get a ladder or step stool.

    Fall-Proof Your Life

    When it comes to falls, the choices you make are important, both at work and at home. As a pedestrian, pay special attention on sidewalks and in busy public areas – never assume others are watching out for you. Help the older adults in your life fall-proof their homes, especially their bathrooms and floor surfaces, to prevent injury. With a little preparation, we can reduce falls wherever we are. It’s part of our job.