Slips, Trips and Falls Poster Child - Me!

  • Published
  • By Ed Scott
  • Air Force Safety Center, Ground Safety Division
Although I'm not a cat, and I don't have nine lives, I have spent the last 30-plus years in the safety career field, learning how people can hurt themselves and trying to protect them. Like me, you've probably heard that slips, trips and falls account for a large percentage of all mishaps. 

Over the years, I've done my part to add to those figures. I remember the first instance very well. I'd finished a summer conference on-base and the custodian was mopping the floor. A base-level safety guy (me) was talking, not watching where he was going, slipped and then kissed the floor. "Ow ... that hurt!"  Being somewhat embarrassed and blood red - oh, wait, that's real blood - my blood - I was transported by base ambulance to the emergency room. Fortunately, I survived. "I'll pay more attention next time," I said. 

Fast-forward a dozen years. It's winter at a Midwestern base. High temperature for the day will be minus 15 with winds above 35 mph. Parking lot conditions are hard-packed ice and snow - reminds me of a northern-tier base, and I'm not even TDY. Older and wiser, and now a MAJCOM-level safety guy, wearing rugged boots, gloves and heavy coat, will brave the elements ... and make it about halfway across the frozen parking lot. Next thing I know, I'm spread-eagled on the cold, hard ice, with a nice lady dressed like an Eskimo leaning over me asking if I'm OK. Embarrassed, but not as red, I slowly crawl to a patch of bare pavement (thank you, base civil engineering!) and gingerly make my way into the building. That's the second time I've fallen. I need something to keep from slipping on ice. 

Fast-forward another dozen years. It's January and I'm TDY to a real northern-tier base that's about as far north as you can get and still be on a U.S. base. I'm the Air Force Safety Center safety guy escorting the regional OSHA representative on a staff assistance visit. The time and temperature sign says it's well below zero. The truck's electric heater has been plugged in, so the truck starts and we can drive to lunch. Actually, it's "creep" to lunch. Everything is ice-coated and will stay that way for weeks. 

I park less than 100 feet from the front door. The OSHA guy puts on his steel-studded ice creepers. Right on time, I make my once-every-12-years dumb decision - I don't need my creepers for THAT short a distance. I make it about halfway to the door and a split-second later, I'm spread-eagled on cold, hard ice again. This time, the Eskimo-looking person leaning over me is a senior OSHA safety staffer, asking me if I'm OK. I'm lying there thinking, "That's a good question; one that warrants some serious thought." With little traffic in the parking lot, I have plenty of time to lie on the ice and ponder the error of my ways. For the last three days, I've walked all over an ice-covered base while wearing my creepers. Why did I think I didn't need my creepers now? They were beside me in the truck and would have taken less than a minute to put on. Maybe I was blinded by thoughts of a double cheeseburger. 

Some follow-on thoughts: "I really don't want to move. I really, really don't want to find out something is broken, but the very patient lady there in the red car wants a parking space. Time to move, but slowly. Nothing broken. I'll probably be stiff and sore tomorrow. I promise to wear my ice creepers." I was lucky again. 

As I've expressed here, when it comes to falls, I've had plenty of practice. This year I'm nominating myself as the Air Force Safety Center's poster child for this hazard. If you see a poster on preventing slips, trips and falls, with some safety guy spread-eagled on a floor, parking lot or iceberg, it's probably me. When you see my poster, please remember - I'm not a cat, I don't have nine lives, and neither do you.