Winter Fall Hazards | Tips for Preventing Falls

Slips, trips and falls cause nearly 700 fatalities and many more injuries each year in workplaces. There are many things we can do to prevent fall hazards.


Most of us have seen someone take a nasty spill on a slippery winter surface or have been victims ourselves. Falling can be serious and more than embarrassing. Slips, trips and falls cause nearly 700 fatalities and many more injuries each year in workplaces, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  


While the majority of fall hazard fatalities occur at heights (more on that below), you would be surprised at how many serious injuries and deaths occur when employees either slip, trip or fall on the same level (which includes stairs).


Avoiding Winter Fall Hazards on the Same Level

There are many things we all can do to prevent fall hazards before they occur. In fact, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that employers keep all walking and working surfaces free of hazards, including spills, snow and ice. It’s important to identify fall hazards to assess fall risk.


Take your time, look out for your co-workers and share these winter walking tips:

  • Take extra time and care when getting in and out of vehicles. Use the vehicle for support. When stepping out of your vehicle, slide your foot out to check for icy ground. Just because your parking lot has been properly plowed and salted, slick spots can occur anywhere during your walk into the building.
  • Pay attention to slippery floors at building entrances. Entrance matting is essential all year, but it’s even more critical when snow, ice and slush are present. One well-placed floor mat will help keep employees and visitors on their feet while eliminating up to 75% of tracked-in dirt. There are many options, including outdoor matting, interior matting and more. You can even customize your mats with your logo and have them cut to size.  If you find slush and water being tracked further down employee entrance hallways, consider adding additional matting to prevent fall hazards.
  • Encourage employees to avoid carrying items or walking with hands in pockets. If possible, place a cart near the entrance to help transport heavy, awkward loads. Having your hands full can reduce your ability to catch yourself if you lose your balance.  Wear gloves when coming in from your car (when cold outside) so that you can use your arms for better balance when walking on slippery surfaces and to help minimize the severity if you were to take a fall (using your arms to keep you from hitting your head on the ground).
  • Remind workers and visitors to use handrails when possible. If you have a slippery patch or slopped walkway without a nearby railing, place a sturdy temporary guardrail close by or erect a retractable barrier to divert foot traffic.
  • Walk as flat-footed as possible to maximize contact and friction if you do encounter slippery surfaces.  Ideally, you want to march with short, flat steps as being the best technique.  You might have heard it’s safest to “walk like a penguin”, however, that concept can be misleading!  By just shuffling your feet along (almost like dragging your feet), you are prone to catch a toe and trip on any uneven surface.  
  • When outdoors, wear winter-appropriate footwear with dependable traction, like strap-on traction grippers, boot-style traction overshoes, ice cleats and ice chains.  Personal fall protection is important, especially in slippery conditions. It only takes a few minutes at home to put on appropriate footwear prior to heading out to work.  Just be aware that some of the ice cleats can be damaging to wood and tile floors, so you might need to remove certain footwear once you are safely indoors at work!
  • Avoid uneven surfaces and be aware of steps and curbs. Slippery surface signage lets employees and customers know there are slip or fall hazards ahead. Your facilities department needs to carefully look at raised sidewalk areas that could be possible trip/fall hazards to employees as winter approaches.
  • Treat slippery surfaces with salt or sand as soon as possible. If materials are not immediately available, report untreated surfaces to your manager or facilities representative.  Giving employees a way to communicate and address potential near miss hazards promptly is important in the effort to prevent these fall hazards.

Avoiding Winter Fall Hazards from High Levels

When working from a ladder or scaffolding, whether it be at a construction site or at home, it's important to plan ahead and use the right equipment in order to avoid fall hazards.


  • Scan the work area for potential fall hazards before starting the job
  • Make sure you have level ground to set up the equipment
  • Check the weather forecast and never work in inclement weather
  • Ensure ladders have a locking device to hold the front and back open
  • Always keep two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand on the ladder
  • Place the ladder on a solid surface and never lean it against an unstable surface
  • A straight or extension ladder should be 1’ away from the surface it rests on for every 4 feet of height and extend at least 3’ over the top edge
  • Securely fasten straight and extension ladders to an upper support
  • Wear slip-resistant shoes and don't stand higher than the third rung from the top
  • Don't lean or reach while on a ladder, and have someone support the bottom
  • Never use old or damaged equipment
  • Don't wear loose clothing that can get caught in equipment
  • Keep the work area clear of fall hazards and immediately clean up spills

If you’re seeing an uptick in slips, trips and falls at work, it might be time for fall protection refresher training. Our safety experts can conduct safety training for your employees, either at your facility or remotely. Using OSHA’s Walking-Working Surfaces Standard, the training addresses the serious slips, trips and falls that occur in workplaces every day.  This newer OSHA standard was specifically created to address all fall hazards for companies required to comply with “General Industry” regulations (most all organizations that are not in the construction industry).



OSHA Quick Card: Protecting Workers from Slips, Trips and Falls



related articles