“There are hazards in anything one does but there are greater hazards in doing nothing.” - Shirley Williams
Hazards are everywhere! As a full-time crutch user, I have learned to navigate my world depending on two rubber soles the size of a silver dollars at the bottom of two sticks to keep me vertical. While they do their job, they don’t supply the same security as two healthy feet. During the years I taught elementary school on crutches I slipped, slid and tripped on all kinds of things around the classroom, including the kids. So while considering job possibilities, I took into account the dangers and logistics of preforming my duties on crutches.
An office job seemed my best option. I figured I would sit safe and sound at my desk in the protection of an office. Apparently, I was wrong – according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention office workers are 2 to 2.5 times more likely to suffer a disabling injury from a fall than non-office workers. Here are the top reasons the CDC has pointed out:
- Tripping over office equipment, objects and electrical cords
- Bending or reaching while in an unstable chair
- Standing on a chair to reach something
- Slipping on wet floors
- Bad lighting
Many of these hazards can be avoided by being careful and keeping aware of the potential dangers. I can avoid standing and chairs, bad lighting really does pose a problem, and my office chair is pretty stable. It’s the other two hazards that become much more difficult to avoid when being dependent on a pair of crutches for walking.
So here it is: Office Crutch Hazards 101!
Before I start there are a few things to understand about crutches. They are wonderful tools that help us walk, but one missed move and there is often no turning back. This is due to the fact that we quickly come to expect crutches to be our ultimate security, our reliable set of legs if you will. They are the tools that we trust to lean on, give us balance, keep us vertical and hold our body’s weight. Crutches do all these things well until the unexpected crutch snakes strike. The snakes get us so quickly that the tools we count on for security are taken from beneath us in an instant. Crutches also require your hands to use them, therefore when the crutch snakes get you, you don’t have your hands to reach out with and grab something to catch your fall.
The following are the 5 office hazards that cause me problems way too often while at the office.
Hazard # 1 Wet Floors/Slipping Hazards – Anyone who has used a pair of crutches even for a short time knows how dangerous wet floors are. Walking on a wet tile floor with crutches is the equivalent of walking on a slab of glass just after rubbing motor oil on the bottom of your shoes. As soon as the crutch tips hit that wet spot they are out from under you in a flash. Even when you are aware of the wet floors, negotiating them safely with crutches is damn near impossible.
Anything on the floor surface that slips away when a crutch tip hits it becomes hazardous. Small rugs, paper, plastic shopping bags, socks – all become a slipping hazard if a crutch tip lands on them. A crutch tip landing on a small cellophane caddy wrapper can send you to the floor before you even know it’s there. I once fell when I accidentally placed a crutch tip on a leaf on my garage floor.
Hazard # 2 Loose Carpet Edges – Think of how easy it is to catch a toe on something; we do it all the time. It is even easier to catch a crutch tip. Catching a crutch tip on a hazard, such as a loose carpet tile, will throw you off balance in an instant. When your crutch gait is tripped it is difficult to recover your step and not go down.
Hazard # 3 Objects in Tight Pathways – The width of your stance becomes wider with crutches. Therefore, narrow aisles and passages can be a challenge in themselves when walking with crutches. Add small office trash cans or other objects into the tight passages and they become tripping hazards. Stubbing a crutch on an object throws you off balance. I can’t tell you how many times I have lost my balance by catching one of my crutches on a trash can. I’ve never actually fell – it just makes a lot of noise, throws off my gait and frustrates me.
Hazard # 4 Doors – I have come close to being knocked off my crutches a few times by solid doors that open in. Not that anyone wouldn’t be knocked over by one of these doors, but with crutches you can’t react as quickly as the average person when someone from the other side pushes the door open abruptly. The door in the picture is the door leaving the restroom on my floor. As you can see, there is no place to stand on either side. One day, just as I went to grab the door handle, a guy came barreling through. To this day I don’t know how I managed to save myself, but I did. The guy felt so bad that I had to stop him a few days later and talk to him about it, just so he could make eye contact with me again. Hey, these things happen – he was in a hurry and had a lot on his mind when he pushed the door open.
Hazard # 5 Evacuation Drills (Stairs) – Stairs in general are a hazard on crutches. I can ascend and descend a flight of stairs very confidently on crutches, but here and there, no matter how experienced I am, I lose my balance. I have had some frighteningly close calls. In fact, that’s the reason I avoid stairs whenever possible! I work on the 12th floor of a 41-story high rise, so evacuation drills are the real hazard. During the drills the elevators are shut down. Twelve flights of stairs packed with hundreds of people quickly descending the twenty nine floors above is not a safe place for a guy on crutches. Obviously there is a plan for those needing assistance, but the plan doesn’t make me feel secure. This makes for a real hazard – how does someone with impaired mobility get out if there is a real emergency? For the drills I wait in my designated spot until the drill ends, but that isn’t going to do me much good if the building is on fire. I joke about tossing my chair out the window and shimmying down on the massive wad of telephone wire under my desk, but somehow in reality I don’t think that will work.
So my desk job really isn’t as safe as I thought it would be. While here and there these hazards catch me off guard, send me to the floor, and cause me immense pain by jamming my bad foot or knocking over trash cans, I have become hypersensitive to every surface my crutch tips hit. These 5 hazards are not just in the office, but everywhere, including your home. Hazards are a part of life and experiencing life is worth the risk. When using crutches to walk you need to develop a sixth sense that makes you more aware of the environment around you.
P.S. If you are using crutches for the long-term, then I highly recommend Thomas Fetterman’s Tornado Crutch Tips. It’s a $48.95 investment that will greatly reduce falls.
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