The USD Safety Committee knows that as winter comes, snow and ice will soon overtake parking lots, roads and sidewalks. They also know that with the changing weather comes an increased risk of a person slipping and falling – something they want to avoid.
Kevin O’Kelley, USD’s director of Environmental Health & Safety, is working to prevent those kind of injuries among employees and students.
“Injuries cost money,” he said. “(When) somebody has to go to the doctor, somebody has to pay that doctor. And that’s for employees of the university and for students. Somebody’s got to pay for that injury.”
The goals of a campaign through the University Safety Committee are to decrease the amount of slips and falls among employees and to lower the cost incurred yearly that is covered by the South Dakota Workers’ Compensation program.
Though students’ own insurance pays for their injuries, O’Kelley believes it is important to highlight them in the campaign them as well.
“The most common accident we have at USD is slips and falls. And they start around now – and they go ‘til around mid-March,” he said. “We have a spike in slip and fall accidents and therefore slip and fall expenses.”
O’Kelley said about half of USD employee injuries occur during this period, which could very well be the case with students. He’s hoping to have people change their habits to reduce the number of falls this winter.
Some of those habits include running up the stairs though they may be slippery, or wearing tennis shoes all year-round.
“We’re putting signs up by stairwells, telling people to use the handrails, ‘wipe your feet,’ you know, the general stuff, so we really want to reach out in every possible way we can to remind people they actually have to change their habits,” he said.
A big part of preventing slips and falls are the shoes people wear around campus, O’Kelley said.
“Uggs are cute, but they’re not great for walking on ice,” he said. “Nobody wants to wear clodhoppers, but sometimes you need to wear clodhoppers.”
This can help decrease the amount of injuries incurred as people step out of their vehicles.
“When you’re getting out of your car, you’re at a weird angle, and your feet slip right out from under you,” he said. “About a quarter of (slip-and-fall accidents) happen in the parking lots, getting in and out of cars.”
The other three-quarters of accidents happen between the door of a building and the first step, along with outdoor slips and falls.
Other kind of accidents monitored by the university are vehicle accidents and strained muscles, primarily among custodians and facilities management employees.
O’Kelley said USD is not the only university promoting outreach to prevent wintertime slips and falls, but it’s their first time doing so.
The Occupational Safety & Health Administration, under the United States Department of Labor, suggests a few actions to help prevent possible slip and fall injuries during winter months:
- “Wear proper footwear when walking on snow or ice, because it is especially treacherous. A pair of insulated and water-resistant boots with good rubber treads is a must for walking during or after a winter storm. Keeping a pair of rubber over-shoes with good treads which fit over your street shoes is a good idea during the winter months.
- Take short steps and walk at a slower pace so you can react quickly to a change in traction, when walking on an icy or snow-covered walkway.”
O’Kelley said he hopes incremental changes are made through the campaign.
“I’d like to see everybody wearing winter boots during the winter,” O’Kelley said. “High heels just don’t cut it, even from the car to the office. It’s just not safe.”
That way, fewer people may get hurt, O’Kelley hopes.
“If you can teach a student when they’re young to make that change, they’re going to make it their whole lives and never fall down again,” he said.