Written by Terry Wong
Slips, trips and falls as a mechanism of injury are second to body stressing when it comes to serious musculoskeletal disorder claims; occupying just under 25% of all claims in this injury category.
This clearly has implications for an ageing workforce given that as a person ages there are changes in balance, which could increase the risk of slips, trips and falls (Silverstein 2008 1).
Slips, trips and falls are not a new risk nor is the impact it can have on a workplace. Indeed, there are a plethora of resources available to help workplaces reduce the risk like the Slips & Trips At the Workplace Fact Sheet released by Safework Australia. Within are the usual control measures like environment, work design, housekeeping and personal protective equipment (PPE).
But what about the person themselves? The physiological changes that occur as we age offer a few opportunities. Here's a few things to ponder:
- Lower back pain increases postural instability (Sohn 2013 2) and increases an individual’s risk of falling.
- Knee injury, arthritis and pain have also been found to negatively affect balance (Hurley 1997 3)
- Proprioception is the body's ability to determine where it is in space. It's the thing that catches you successfully or unsuccessfully as you traverse across an uneven surface and roll your ankle. The bad news is, in most instances, proprioception declines as we age. The good news is that proprioception can improve with training – simple balance-based activities is the most popular way of achieving this.
So it stands to reason, if we are able to reduce pain and injury or improve balance, this will go a long way to reduce the risk of slips, trips and falls. There appears to be a gap in industry-based research to research this idea. In its absence, perhaps we should simply consider the physical attributes of the employee when it comes to reviewing the workplace to rid it of slips, trips and falls. It is within our power to improve workers' wellbeing, and in so doing reduce their risk of slips, trips and falls.
1 Silverstein, M. (2008) Meeting the challenges of an aging workforce. American Journal of Industrial Medicine. Vol. 51, no. 4, pp. 269-280.
2 Sohn, Min Kyun et al. 2013. “Effects of Acute Low Back Pain on Postural Control.” Ann Rehabil Med. 37(1): 17-25.
3 Hurley, Michael et al. 1997. “Sensorimotor changes and functional performance in patients with knee osteoarthritis.” Ann Rheum Dis:56:641-648.