How Emotion Drives Safety: Preventing Slips, Trips, and Falls

How Emotion Drives Safety: Preventing Slips, Trips, and Falls

The statistics are staggering. Slips, trips, and falls (STFs) are the second most common form of injuries across all types of industries. These injuries account for workers missing an average of 38 workdays each year. Slips, trips, and falls account for 65% of all lost workdays. Just imagine the amount of lost production that equates to your business. The issue of slips, trips, and falls is important, and we need to help our employees understand the risks and impact an injury can have on themselves, their employer, and their families. The challenge for supervisors is understanding how to inspire employees and effectively communicate the potential impact of slips, trips, and falls. That's why we've created the Smart Step. Safe Step. campaign to help supervisors understand how emotion can help drive safety in their organizations. 


5 things supervisors can do to help their employees prevent slips, trips, and falls:

  1. Understand that STFs are a serious issue.
  2. Reevaluate safety training approaches. 
  3. Connect on an emotional level.
  4. Share impactful stories.
  5. Empower employees with knowledge.   

These items will be discussed in more detail later in the article. First, I'll discuss the importance of rethinking safety training techniques.  Then, I'll share a personal story about a workplace fall that had a major impact on my family. 


Rethinking Safety Training

Most of us know what we should and shouldn't do regarding STFs. We've been taught for years to practice safe walking techniques and to use handrails when walking up and down steps. Before using a ladder, ensure it is fully opened and secured on a flat surface. Clear away tripping hazards, such as cords, wires, or clutter. Despite these precautions, statistics tell us that employees still take unnecessary chances surrounding STFs.  Why is that? 

We have repeatedly offered training sessions, employees have watched videos, and many have taken online training modules on this subject. Based on many injuries, it's as if there has been no training at all.  So, how can supervisors change this narrative? First, we need to inspire our employees to think differently about STFs.

To date, traditional safety practices rely on conveying knowledge or information. They are built solely because humans are rational and make conscious decisions - but that is not the case.


Humans are emotional and make decisions based on how they feel about something.

As supervisors, we must understand this concept and help inspire our employees to think more emotionally about the impact of STFs. Understanding how humans make decisions is the first step in changing attitudes about STFs or any other at-risk behavior. Next, knowing this information, we must communicate our messaging around STFs differently than ever. We must emotionally connect with the employees to help them understand the negative consequences of a slip, trip, or fall. They must ask themselves, "How would an injury due to a slip, trip, or fall impact my family, my children?" When employees realize that the impacts negatively affect not just themselves or the business but also their families, it starts to hit home. 


Sharing Stories

Sharing stories is one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal. It allows us to connect. So, let me share a story that deeply impacted me. December 23, 1993, was a snow day in Virginia. My brother and I were outside playing when my mother came to tell us that my dad had an accident at work and likely broke his arm. She told us our grandmother would stay with us while she went to the hospital. What my brother and I did not know was that my mother wasn't telling us what she'd been told. In fact, she was told my father fell off the top of a tanker truck, that it was a head and back injury, that it was terrible, and that she needed to get to the hospital as quickly as possible. When she left, she didn't know whether he would survive. As not to alarm us, we were only told there was a minor accident. 

My father was a truck driver on top of a tanker, opening the hatch so the tanker could be filled. Because of the cold weather, the tanker was wet and icy. As a result, he lost his balance and fell directly onto the concrete. My father shattered his hip and wrist. He also suffered a black eye and sustained multiple minor injuries. It could have been much worse if he hadn't had his hard hat on. 

He had surgeries to insert 13 pins and screws in his hip and to put the rods of an external fixator through his hand. In total, he spent over a month in a hospital. His injuries were horrible and included many complications (e.g., blood clots). My dad spent nearly a year in a hospital bed in our den. Our den remained crowded for some time with his hospital bed, walkers, and other medical equipment. My mom slept on the sofa, and my brother and I slept on the floor because we were afraid to leave him since he could do nothing for himself. Therapists (physical and occupational) and nurses were in and out of our house—all day, every day—to check on his status and help him learn how to walk again and use his wrist and fingers once the external fixator had been removed. 


Hip Injury Xray

X-ray image showing a shattered hip caused by a fall.


While we often think injuries only impact the person involved, that's not the case. My entire family was impacted.

My brother and I were young kids and excited for Christmas morning, but we found ourselves in a hospital on Christmas Day. We spent our entire school break traveling to and from the hospital to visit my dad. Once my mother could return to work and we were back in school, other family members were impacted. Because my father needed round-the-clock care for such a long time, we relied on other family members to take turns caring for my father, answering the door for medical personnel and visitors, communicating new instructions from doctors and therapists, and eventually to driving him to therapy once he was able to get out of the hospital bed. It was 17 months before my father could return to work. He still wasn't happy because he was sitting in an office. It took even longer before he could begin driving a truck again.

My family's story is just one example of why you must find ways to resonate with your employees. The goal is to get your employees to think differently about at-risk behaviors they might be performing. Knowing that we make decisions based on emotions is vital to communicating with our employees differently. Perhaps you, as the supervisor, can share a story or maybe have an employee tell his/her real-life story to have a lasting impact on employees' safety behaviors. People tend to pay more attention when the person talking has "lived" through an injury from a slip, trip, or fall because that person can help employees visualize the real-life impact on their lives.


5 takeaways to help your employees understand the full impacts of slips, trips, and falls:

  1. Understand that STFs are a serious issue. Slips, trips, and falls (STFs) are the second most common form of injuries across industries, resulting in an average of 38 missed workdays annually for affected workers. They also account for a staggering 65% of all lost workdays.

  2. Reevaluate safety training approaches. Traditional methods of conveying information may not be effective in preventing STFs. It's crucial to inspire employees to think emotionally about the impact of such accidents on themselves, their families, and the business.

  3. Connect on an emotional level. Understand that humans make decisions based on emotions, not just rationality. Communicate the potential consequences of an STF in a way that resonates with employees personally. Encourage them to consider how an injury could affect their families and children.

  4. Share impactful stories. Narratives have a powerful effect in making connections. Sharing real-life stories of STF incidents, like the personal experience shared in this article, can help employees visualize the real-life impact of such accidents.

  5. Empower employees with knowledge. Provide resources to guide employees in understanding the full scope of the impacts of slips, trips, and falls. This knowledge can empower them to take proactive steps towards safety.

Safety Discussion Points Documents

Getting employees to think and talk about how an injury would impact their families could make all the difference. Help guide your employees to safety. Download our Smart Step. Safe Step. Discussion Point documents and begin discussing the emotional impact of injuries with your team today. 

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About the Author

Abby Galjour joined The American Equity Underwriters, Inc. in January 2020 as a Business Development Manager for AEU LEAD®. Prior to joining AEU, Abby was with DuPont Sustainable Solutions for 15 years where she worked with a variety of organizations to build sustainable employee safety solutions and helped employees assess risk and understand that safety is ingrained into everything they do. Abby received her B.B.A in both Marketing and Management from Radford University.

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