(Est Read Time: 4-min)
What goes through your head when you look outside in the morning and see icy sidewalks? Or when you step out of your truck onto uneven terrain? Do you worry about getting around safely? Do you wonder if you can even get to your car or transit stop without a side trip to the ER?
They're not unfounded worries. At last count, ice and other slippery conditions led to 42,480 workplace injuries and illnesses in a single year. More than 80 percent of these were same-level falls, not from a step or height.
Injuries on Ice or Uneven Surfaces – How They Happen
Ice or uneven surfaces can be a hazard for anybody, even if you spend your workday indoors. Maybe you're late for a meeting and hurrying across the parking lot. Your foot slides on a patch of black ice and the next thing you know, you're on the ground.
Or maybe you work outdoors in a rocky gravel yard. You navigate around some tricky surfaces and a stone moves out from under your foot leaving you with a twisted ankle.
Any time surfaces are slick or uneven, you need to pay attention to safety risks. This is where the T.E.A.M. approach comes in.
T.E.A.M. to the Rescue
The T.E.A.M. approach is a step-by-step method that helps you identify and respond to safety hazards. Any time you need to prevent injuries on slippery surfaces, remember T.E.A.M. - Task, Environment, Approach, and “Myself.”
T is for Task
What do you have to do? Carry tools to a job site? Climb a ladder? Get from your car to the front door of your building without falling on ice? Know exactly what it is you are asking of your body.
E is for Environment
What's going on around you? Think of all the details that might be relevant:
- Is the ground muddy, snowy or icy?
- What is the surface itself? Gravel? Asphalt? Dirt?
- Is there a slant to the surface or any obstacles I will have to navigate?
- Does anything look wet? Is it cold enough to be black ice?
- Has anyone spread salt or sand?
- How risky is it to walk across this surface, or is there another route?
A is for Approach
Any time you have to prevent injuries on ice or other tricky surfaces, you'll take a different approach than you would use on solid, even, dry ground. First, think about how you walk.
- Keep your hands free. Doing so lowers your center of gravity and lets you use your arms to balance.
- Put your phone in your pocket!
- Walk like a penguin – bent knees, flat feet, weight over the balls of the feet.
- Stay on paths that have been shoveled and de-iced.
- If you must walk on an uneven surface, take your time with each step.
- If you have to carry or push anything, be aware of how it changes your balance.
- Go slowly and pay attention!
Use Your Resources
If you can, wear and carry things that will help you stay upright:
- Choose boots or shoes with non-slip soles. Grooved bottoms are great; ice cleats are even better.
- If you need an extra point for balance, get a trekking pole. Three points of contact are always better than two.
- If you're getting out of a car, hold on as you climb out. Don't forget to look for ice!
Hopefully, by taking the appropriate precautions, you can avoid a fall. However, you should always be prepared in case a fall occurs. Being prepared is thinking about how to handle them so you can avoid more serious injuries.
- Always try to fall to the side. Aim to land on your thigh rather than your knee. Catch yourself with your forearm and not your hand.
- If you're going to land on your back, tuck your chin to your chest and extend your arms forward. That way you keep your head, wrists, and elbows safe.
- However you fall, don't tense your muscles! You'll fare better if you're relaxed when you hit the ground.
M is for Myself
Ask yourself, am I ready to perform the task? Have I warmed up my muscles?
Remember, feeling warm doesn't mean you've warmed up. If you rode to work in a heated car with heated seats, that's great, but your muscles may not be ready for physical activity. You need to get moving and this is a perfect opportunity to incorporate a few components of Daily Body Care into your pre-work preparation.
Make sure you're on a stable surface and try a few of these recommended Daily Body Care movements:
- Superman: Helps get your spine moving so that you can stay nimble and react to slips or sudden loss of footing.
- Western Reach: Lets you practice your balance and prepares you to walk on snow, ice or other tricky surfaces. This move also improves your hip mobility so you can stay upright if you slip.
- Rolling Out the Legs: Relaxes your leg muscles so they're more responsive.
- Rolling Out the Forearms: Gets your arm muscles ready to grasp, wrench or perform any activity, which is especially important when it's cold outside.
Take a few moments and get your muscles ready to move. You'll thank yourself when you're able to prevent a slip-and-slide from becoming a slip-and-fall!
Prepare, Don't Fear!
Remember, just because you have to be careful on slippery or uneven ground doesn't mean that those surfaces are inherently risky. In fact, our bodies are made for them!
Human beings haven't always walked on wooden floors and smooth concrete. Our early ancestors often found themselves running through woodlands and across rolling savannahs.
Those kinds of uneven surfaces are good for your body! They force us to constantly shift our centers of gravity, improving range of motion and building strength in multiple muscle groups.
Also, uneven ground requires our bodies to notice and adjust to changes in the way our feet hit the ground. It challenges our eyes, feet, brains, and muscles to work together in order to move forward safely. Without this kind of challenge, we become less coordinated and less aware of where we are in space.
Final Thoughts on Uneven Surfaces
- When done without caution, the safety hazard posed by walking on uneven or slippery surfaces can be substantial
- However, when precautions are taken, uneven surfaces can actually strengthen your body and coordination
- Follow the T.E.A.M. Approach to reduce your risk of a slip and trip
- T: Take a moment to think through the TASK you're asking your body to complete
- E: What is your ENVIRONMENT like? Could there be black ice? Is the gravel loose?
- A: What is the safest APPROACH to completing the task? Go slowly and keep your hands free.
- M: Ask yourself, "what about MYSELF?" Do 1-2 minute of Daily Body Care before attempting to walk on an uneven surface to ensure your muscles are activated and ready to stabilize you.
Disclaimer: Vimocity does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
If you experience any pain with any movements immediately stop and consult a qualified healthcare provider.
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