“Falling safely” sounds like a contradiction in terms — if you’ve ever taken a spill, you know that nothing about it feels safe.
But you can do things to reduce the impact of and damage from a fall, and that can be important because falls can cause serious injuries. The National Safety Council reports that in 2019, the most recent numbers available, 244,000 workers in the United States had to take days off because of an injury from a fall, and 880 died from fall-related injuries.
“Whether you lose your balance or slip on the ice, you don’t want to crack your head open,” says Randy Philabaum, a Pinnacol safety consultant. “If and when a slip-and-fall accident occurs, you want to limit the injury that takes place.”
Prevention is the best cure, of course, and awareness can reduce your risk of falling. Philabaum says falls may occur when you enter a new environment or something in a familiar environment has moved or changed, such as when your workplace parking lot gets repaved or your work kitchen is rearranged so tables sit closer to the door. Weather, too, can precipitate a fall.
But prevention can’t stop every fall. Follow our step-by-step guide to falling safely to cushion the blow the next time you lose your footing.
As soon as you begin to fall, your body tenses up involuntarily. It knows what will inevitably come next, so tension may seem hard to avoid. But Philabaum says a relaxed body is less likely to get seriously hurt.
For instance, if you lock your arms or legs, you can’t soften the impact like you could with bent elbows or knees that can absorb shock. You may even snap a bone if you keep your arms or legs straight. Don’t ball your fists, either.
A head injury can be one of the most serious consequences of a fall. “If your other extremities get injured, they will recover. It’s harder to recover from a head injury,” Philabaum notes. “You need to protect your head in some form.”
For example, if you fall backward, tuck your chin and push your head to your chest to stop your head from having a violent collision with the ground. And if you fall forward, turn your face away from the ground and shield your head with your arms and hands if you can.
3. Aim for ‘meatier’ parts of your body
The meatier the part of the body that you fall on, the better. Philabaum advises trying to twist your body as you drop so that you land on your legs or butt. Aim for the largest parts — try to hit muscle, not bone.
Your instinct when you fall is to stop as soon as you can. Philabaum says it’s actually safer to keep going with the momentum. That means ducking into a roll so you can more gently come to a stop rather than jerking to a stop. This way, you spread the impact across your body rather than concentrating it in one place.
Teach your employees how to take a fall and they may avoid serious injury. For more on fall prevention, check out our fall protection resources. You can also contact a safety consultant at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss safe falls and fall prevention.