Always Stand on Your Own Two Feet
Author: Joachim Geiger
Slipping, tripping, and falling are among the most common causes of household accidents. DEKRA expert Florian Halstenbach explains how best to avoid them.
Is falling really a life risk that people are exposed to every day? This is the case in the workplace, at least. “Especially in the commercial sector, accidents relating to slips, trips, and falls (STF accidents) are commonplace. Stairs and ladders are usually involved, with ladder accidents generally resulting in more serious injuries,” explains Florian Halstenbach, occupational safety expert at DEKRA. The expert is familiar with the annual statistics on accidents at work from the German Social Accident Insurance (DGUV). For 2022, it counted 165,420 reportable workplace accidents in which people were injured as a result of STF accidents.
Number one cause of accidents: Slipping, tripping, and falling
So you might think that things are much less dangerous in private households. Sure, there’s always a carpet lying across the floor, a vacuum cleaner with a cable plugged in, and children’s toys in the hallway. But that doesn’t make the household a dangerous place with tripping hazards everywhere, does it?
In fact, the image of the ‘home sweet home’ that promises protection and safety, is not entirely accurate when seen in the light of day. The Federal Statistical Office’s statistics on deaths by accident category show that almost half of all fatal accidents (15,551 out of 32,587 accidents) in 2022 occurred in people’s homes. In the age groups between 25 and 65, 1,335 people died in the home. The accident rate increases significantly for people aged 65 and over, and even disproportionately for people aged 75 and over. Although the statistics do not break down the exact causes of the accidents, relevant studies by the Robert Koch Institute, the German Society for Trauma Surgery, and the German Society for Geriatrics show that slipping, tripping, and falling are among the most common causes of accidents across all age groups. Incidentally, a study presented in spring 2023 by the Vienna Board of Trustees for Road Safety shows that spring cleaning in March and April is a veritable safety hazard – an average of 60 spring cleaners per day are so seriously injured that they require hospital treatment.
Fall risk at home: Just a little carelessness can be enough
“Many people underestimate the risk of injury from falls at home,” says DEKRA occupational safety expert Florian Halstenbach. This is also confirmed by the results of a DEKRA survey on domestic accidents conducted a few years ago: According to the survey, almost one in three people over the age of 60 do not use safe climbing supports when doing housework and instead use a cupboard, chair, or shelf. The survey also shows that a large proportion of respondents (45%) are aware of the considerable risks of falling in the home. “The tragic thing is that potential tripping hazards don’t cause any problems for a long time – until exactly the moment when a variable in the usual routine changes,” reports Halstenbach. This could be, for example, a little carelessness when climbing the stairs, a hectic rush and time pressure when cleaning windows, changing the burned out light bulb in the bathroom, or getting the suitcase off the top shelf of the cupboard. If unfavorable external factors are added – such as wet and slippery tiles on the floor or a ladder with loose screws – then an accident is inevitable.
The consequence of falls: From bruises to death
In the best case scenario, you will come away from a fall with a scare or a bruise. However, bruises and sprains, injuries to the ankles, foot, and knee joints, as well as the lower legs are also common. The serious consequences of a fall include broken bones – falls onto the side in particular often end in fractures of the thigh or pelvic bones. And trying to break a fall with your hand can break your wrist. One consequence of a fall that should not be underestimated is the fear of a possible new fall. The logical consequence: People with that fear move less and less and forego important activities of daily living as a result. So what is the best way to prevent falls? DEKRA expert Halstenbach advises that personal safety management should also be taken into account. Anyone who starts cleaning the house with the flu and under the influence of medication can themselves become a safety hazard. Impaired vision is also a risk factor – in poor visibility or in the dark, it is easy to trip over a chair or get caught on a cable. Older people also often have the handicap that the risk of falling increases at the same rate as the muscle strength in their arms and legs and their sense of balance decreases.
Tripping hazards in households
● Carpets create a cozy atmosphere, but loose edges and high corners are classic tripping hazards.
● Carpets and rugs can slip on smooth floors. They can be secured with anti-slip mats or adhesive coverings.
● Loose cables in a room are a source of danger. It is therefore best to run cables – including extension cables – along the baseboards.
● Tidiness is a safety factor. After cleaning, clear away buckets, brooms, vacuum cleaners, and cleaning products. The walkways in the apartment and stairwell should also be kept clear of decorative objects.
● Wet and slippery stairs are dangerous terrain.
● When carrying heavy shopping and bulky drink crates, it is better to take the stairs several times – if possible, always with one hand on the handrail.
Using a ladder
● A ladder is a must for household work at higher levels. The classic household ladder is a folding step ladder, which is available in various sizes.
● Chairs or tables are no substitute for ladders. Only use ladders that are in good condition.
● Make sure the ladder is stable and sturdy with non-slip feet and treads.
● Always place ladders on a firm and level surface. Always stand with both feet on the ladder. If possible, hold on with one hand.
● Only clean windows while inside the room and, if possible, while standing on the ground.
● It makes sense to use cleaning equipment with a telescopic handle. Otherwise, use a safe ladder. Stepping onto the outer windowsill is an absolute no-go.