Slips, Trips, and Falls: The Inside Story

 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), slip, trip, and fall injuries cost the US economy over $172 billion in 2013. That cost includes the medical and lifetime work-loss costs from fall injuries. Slips, trips, and falls are a big problem in the United States and around the world. To stop these injuries, we need to better understand the problem. Fortunately for us, thousands of studies have looked at the problem with falls. Fortunately for you, you don’t have to sort through the data because I’ve done that and tried to relate it to everyday life.

The Data on Fall Injuries, Deaths

Image via Shutterstock

In the United States, there are two primary databases that capture information on fall-related injuries and deaths. One is managed by the CDC; the other is managed by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The CDC’s Web-Based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS) is an interactive database that provides US injury data including fatal and nonfatal injury, violent death, and cost of injury data from a variety of trusted sources. The CDC compiles data related to daily living and the general population.

The BLS’s Injuries, Illnesses, and Fatalities (IIF) program provide annual information on the rate and number of work-related injuries, illnesses, and fatal injuries, and how these statistics vary by incident, industry, geography, occupation, and other characteristics. The BLS data focuses on events that occur at work or are related to work.

Looking specifically at injuries from slips, trips, and falls, they fall into three major classifications:

  • falls on the same level (63%)

  • falls from elevation (19 %)

  • slips or trips without a fall (16%)

I was surprised by the number of injuries from slips and trips without a fall, which causes you to pull a muscle or tweak something. One of my more cynical editors suggested that the percentage of these injuries (16%) was artificially high because some workers claim a fake injury to get paid time off from the worker’s compensation insurance program. There’s no statistical evidence to support this contention. Keep in mind that this is only for work-related injuries. The CDC database doesn’t track this level of detail, so we don’t know if this same causation pattern for injuries occurs away from the workplace.

Image via The Francis Law Group

Falls vs. Fall Injuries

One of the problems with data is that we can only analyze the information captured. We don’t know how often people actually fall. The CDC and the BLS look at the number of injuries caused by falls, but neither tracks the actual number of falls that occur either at work or in everyday life. And, quite honestly, I’m not sure how we could accurately track the number of falls that occur. The information related to how often people fall is almost anecdotal.

The CDC says that one in three elderly Americans will fall each year, but the source of that information isn’t documented. There are many studies that look at falls in the elderly, but few on how often everyone else falls. I did find two studies that look at how the non-elderly fall, but their methodology and conclusions were very different.

The first study is from the National Institute on Aging, published in 2005, which had 1,497 participants ranging in age from 20 to 92. In this study, participants filled out a questionnaire designed to determine whether they had fallen during the last two years, and the circumstances and resulting injuries from those falls.

One of the conclusions from this study was that as we age, we fall more frequently: 18% of participants in the 20–45 age group reported falling during the previous two years; 21% in the 46–65 age group reported falling during the previous two years; and 35% over age 65 reported falling during the previous two years.

Millennials at High Risk of Slip and Fall Accidents

Image via Waynesburg University

Then there’s a 2015 study by Purdue University that tracked ninety-four underclassmen (average age of 20) by asking them to respond to a daily e-mail reporting their slip, trip, and fall activity for the previous 24 hours.

In this study, which ran only sixteen weeks (30% of the year), researchers found that 52% of the participants reported that they fell at least once. That shows a much larger fall number in a much younger population—not what you might expect.

Their slip, trip, and fall activity for the previous 24 hours. In this study, which ran only sixteen weeks (30% of the year), researchers found that 52% of the participants reported that they fell at least once.

How do we reconcile these two studies? I think the difference in results is due to the methodology and how people remember a fall.

Image via EHS Today

For example, say it’s the middle of winter and a small snowstorm has just ended. You head out to shovel your walk. On the way out, you hit a slippery patch and fall down. You’re wearing a big puffy coat and you fall in a pile of fresh, soft snow. No harm was done. You get up, brush yourself off, and proceed to shovel your walk. That fall is a non-event. Without a reason to make that fall memorable, it will quickly fade from your mind.

If you recorded falls daily like the participants in the Purdue study, you’d be likely to remember the tumble in the driveway. Would you remember that fall when filling out a questionnaire six months or a year later? Probably not, unless there was something special about it, like an injury.

Frequent Fall Injuries

The problem is that falls are different. There’s a randomness to slip, trip, and fall injuries—with every fall, there’s a risk of injury. You’ll fall many times during your life. The likelihood of an injury from a fall depends on where you fall, how you fall, and how old you are.

The most frequent injuries are contusions (bruises), lacerations (cuts or gashes), broken bones, and head injuries. We know that falls are the number one cause of emergency room visits every year and for a fall to prompt an emergency room visit, it has to result in a pretty serious injury.

We know that falls are the number one cause of traumatic brain injuries. We know that falls are the number one cause of accidental death for seniors. And we also know that everyone falls.

Image via ONE HealthCare Worldwide

What we don’t know is whether your next fall will be the one that sends you to the emergency room. The best way to prevent an STF injury is to avoid a fall and have an understanding why we fall can reduce the risk.

If you have a different interpretation of the data or a different perspective, I invite you to e-mail me at [email protected] I look forward to learning more about your experiences and building a better understanding of how we can Stop the Slip and reduce slip, trip, and fall injuries.

 

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Stop the Slip's mission is to help prevent slip and fall accidents before they happen. Featuring our popular aluminum Handi Treads and the new Puppy/People Treads.

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