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Create safe workplaces through simple prevention

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As our work force begins to age and continues working past traditional retirement age, it is important for businesses, caregivers and families to take precautions to ensure safe environments.

About 21 million medical visits are associated with home-related injuries every year, according to the Home Safety Council. And the average slip or fall costs a business about $28,000, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Many of these injuries result from hazards that are easy to overlook and equally simple to prevent.

Here are some ways to create a safer work environment and prevent falls:

1. Reduce wet or slippery surfaces. Accidents on walking surfaces usually occur in parking lots, sidewalks, prep areas and showers. Make sure to keep parking lots and sidewalks free of trash. Use mats to absorb moisture in entrances, prep areas, and locker and shower rooms. Also, make sure grab bars are well anchored to walls and placed at the appropriate height. If possible, install railings on all outdoor stairs, pathways and decks, as well as potentially slippery areas that have textured surfaces.

2. Keep walkways in common areas free of obstacles. Make sure doorways, stairs and hallways are kept clear. All exposed cords should be moved along the wall and taped. Rugs, carpets and mats should be taped or tacked down.

3. Maintain proper lighting. Lighting should not be too dim or direct. Light switches should be accessible at the top and bottom stairs. Install night lights in bathrooms and hallways. Pay special attention to indoor and outdoor entrances.

4. Organized work areas make it easier to find items or reach high places without the risk of falling. For example, kitchen items that are used often should be either at waist level or on low shelves. If you need to reach for something, a stepladder should be used rather than a chair, bucket or box. Mailboxes should be at an accessible level.

There are also several risk factors that can increase the chances of falls. Knowing how to reduce risk can help prevent them:

• Osteoporosis causes bones to become weaker, making them more susceptible to fracture.

• Individuals can wear hip padding to reduce the impact of falls and can ask a doctor how to increase bone density by taking supplements, estrogen or hormone-replacement therapy.

• Exercising on different surfaces can help prevent falls as it exposes individuals to various surfaces and increases balance and stability. An aerobic workout increases breathing and strength training can help with resistance.

• If taking medications, check the possible side effects so you don’t engage in activities that can increase chances of an injury.

Employers and employees need to take safety precautions in the workplace to ensure they can perform their responsibilities as well as save individuals and employers from costly medical procedures.

Downey is president and CEO of Senior Community Centers, a nonprofit agency dedicated to increasing the quality of life for San Diego seniors living in poverty. Learn more at www.servingseniors.org.

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