Safety Strategies: Clear your path to a safe church

By Amy M. Kimmes

The aisles that guide your congregation to a higher power could lead to slips, trips and falls if you’re not careful.

Falls are one of the leading causes of unintentional injuries in the U.S., according to the National Safety Council. Those injuries accounted for about 8.8 million visits to the emergency room in 2013 — a nearly 500,000 drop from about 9.3 million visits to the emergency room in 2011.

Even with the recent decrease in visits to the emergency room, falls still are the leading cause of nonfatal unintentional injuries in the U.S., according to Ken Kolosh, manager of statistics at the National Safety Council.

Further, falls are the No. 1 cause of injury at religious organizations. Serious injuries often are associated with falls from elevated surfaces — think choir risers, outdoor decks, stages and bleachers.
And church festivals can bring an added risk for slips and falls at places of worship.
Church Mutual customers in 2013, for example, experienced a variety of claims involving employees and the general public. Within both groups, a common cause of loss involved slip / fall claims.
Slips and falls among employees accounted for 35 percent of the workers’ compensation claims and 53 percent of the dollar losses that year.
In comparison, trips and falls involving volunteers, guests and members accounted for 66 percent of the general liability / medical payments claims and 61 percent of the losses. Some of these losses occurred during festival events, indoors and outdoors.
safety-firstAs Church Mutual insures nearly 100,000 organizations — churches, schools, camps and senior living facilities, for example — it reasonably presumes churches across the country have similar experiences regardless of insurance company.
Routine maintenance of your building and grounds, however, can help keep your church slip- and trip-free. Areas to maintain should include:
Sidewalks, curbs and walkways. They should be inspected regularly. Seasonal changes in temperature and regular wear and tear can affect their condition. Mark places where the level of the walking surface changes.
Carpeted floors. Check regularly for frays, tears and loose edges.
Tile, wood and linoleum floors. Smooth surfaces require constant maintenance. Keep floors clean and free of water, oil and grease.
Entries, stairwells and steps. Light them up! And keep them dry and clutter-free. Add sturdy handrails on both sides of steps when possible. Steps should have the same rise and depth with visible edges. Keep the areas free of grease, snow, ice and other clutter, such as boxes.
Lighting. It’s crucial to slip-and-fall prevention. Keep your grounds well lit.

Slip / fall hazards at worship center festivals
• Tie-downs and tent stakes
• Electrical cords across walkways
and hallways
• Uneven walking surfaces — think grass, gravel, dirt and dance floors, and moving from one to the other
• Stage platforms and steps
• Exposed tree roots and stones and even animal holes in the ground
• Congested areas around game booths, dunk tanks and inflatable jump houses
• Haphazardly arranged tables
and chairs
• Poorly lit parking lots, sidewalks, stairways and festival areas
Note: This list is not all encompassing.

Ladder safety
• Never substitute a table, chair or box for a ladder.
• Equip extension ladders with anti-slip safety shoes / feet.
• Repair damaged rungs and side rails before use.
• Don’t overreach. If your belt buckle reaches past the top of the side rails, you’ve gone too far.
• Always face the ladder and maintain three points of contact while climbing.
• Do not use metal ladders near electrical power lines, service panels or other electrical sources.
• Make sure your ladder extends at least 3 feet above the point of contact of a roof and is secured to help prevent slipping. The base of the ladder should be spaced 1 foot away from the building for every 4 feet it reaches up — about a 75-degree angle.

Church Mutual Insurance Company offers a variety of resources to help prevent slips, trips and falls, including two videos: Improving Safety at Your Worship Center and Preventing Workplace Injuries is No Accident. Visit our website and click on “Safety Resources.”

Amy M. Kimmes is editor of Church Mutual Insurance Company’s Risk Reporter newsletters for religious organizations, schools, camps and conference centers and senior living facilities.

In coming issues, this vital new series will offer expert strategies for mitigating a variety of top-of-mind risks for church leaders:
• Playground safety
• Social media
• Cyber security
• Bullying
• Crime prevention


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