Falls are one of the main causes of injury, disability and even death among older adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one out of three adults 65 and older will fall each year. Approximately 90 percent of hip fractures result from falls and one out of five hip fracture patients die within one year of their injury.
From a business perspective, as employees age, the cost of any falls they experience on the job increases both monetarily and in the number of workdays missed.
About 15 percent of falls account for work-related injuries. One single fall, whether it’s a construction worker slipping off a roof or an employee missing a step and falling down the stairs while typing on the phone, can cost a company as much as $1 million.
According to Barbara D’Souza, Kaiser Permanente workplace health and safety manager, “Falls at work are an unfortunate part of the job for many people and they become more difficult to recover from as employees age. It’s important for employers to really show they care about employee safety in order to eliminate distractions and prevent falls. This commitment involves a cultural shift throughout an organization.”
Falls are preventable at the office and at home. Consider these recommendations to help protect your employees:
1. Encourage staff to wear proper footwear. This can actually reduce falls by as much as 40-50 percent.
• Condition-appropriate footwear should be worn at all times. This means slip-resistant soles on smooth and wet surfaces. On snowy, icy and rainy days, boots should be worn to work. Avoid high heels.
• Clean footwear of mud or snow before entering a building.
• Promote employee awareness of surroundings so that everyone pays attention to where they are going.
2. Keep floors clean and dry.
• Clean up spills immediately. Display warning signs around any wet areas.
• Use no-skid waxes on surfaces coated with grit to create non-slip areas in bathrooms.
3. Eliminate clutter.
• Make sure there are no obstructions in walkways that could create hazards. Provide plugs for equipment so that power cords do not run across the floor.
• Keep access to exits clear at all times.
• Encourage employees to use the handrail on stairs, walk slowly and maintain an unobstructed view, even if that means requesting help to manage a bulky load or taking two trips.
The behaviors employees practice at home directly impact how they are able to perform at work. I offer several tips to my patients as they get older to prevent falls at home:
• Wear shoes with good support, rather than walking around barefoot.
• Consider adding grab bars in hallways, stairways and bathtubs. Use nightlights in hallways and bathrooms and keep a phone and flashlight by the bed.
• Exercise regularly to increase leg and core strength and improve balance. Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi, walking and swimming are all good options to consider.
• Schedule vision and hearing checks annually or when noticeable changes occur.
• Ask for help with getting out of bed or the bathtub when feeling dizzy or weak. An assistive device, such as a cane or walker, is another option.
• Read the labels on all medications. Sometimes combinations of medicines can cause dizziness or sleepiness when they interact with each other.
• Remove area rugs that can be a fall hazard.
Following these simple precautions can result in fewer costly falls and a safer workplace and home life for aging adults. For more tips, visit bit.ly/NoFallsTips to view a video series from Kaiser Permanente on fall prevention and home safety tips.
Dr. Stephanie Garcia, M.D., is an internal medicine physician practicing at Kaiser Permanente’s Briargate Medical Offices in Colorado Springs.