I don’t recommend it but the trip and fall accident I had recently has certainly opened my eyes and added to my experience investigating the cause of these types of accidents.
I got insight in a hurry on how easily it can happen and how the tiniest feature at a slip, trip and fall site needs to be investigated. You can’t beat personal experience, but if I had a choice I would have passed it up in a heart beat.
I tripped on the curb in a parking lot and fell hard – face down – on a concrete sidewalk. I had just got out of my car at a building where I was picking up some safety equipment. The building had a closed Covid-19-look and I was looking up – while walking forward – for a sign on how to alert people that I was there. When down I went after tripping on a simple curb – or so it seemed simple.
Curbs are everywhere and we walk across them all the time so what happened this time?
I visually examined the site a couple of days later when I had recovered a little. The curb in the parking lot looked well built. But I also got the impression it was a little higher than curbs in general.
I looked more closely where I had tripped and there was no question the curb was higher there. It gradually got higher from the parking lot in general to the place where I fell. A rough measure indicated 7.9 inches compared to 6.7 inches in the parking lot.
I went back later and measured the height of the curb where I fell and compared this to measurements of the curb farther along. I also compared the height to the curb on the other side of the 40 foot wide parking lot.
I then compared the height of the curb in the parking to that in the parking lot of an apartment building and also to the curb on the residential street where I live.
This is what I found:
- Height of curb where I fell … 7.9 inches
- Height of curb farther along … 6.6 inches (1.3 inches lower)
- Height 40 feet across the parking lot … 5.7 inches (2.2 inches lower)
- Height of curb in an apartment building parking lot … 5.6 inches (2.3 inches lower)
- Height of curb on my residential street … 5.1 (2.8 inches lower)
Note the differences from where I fell compared to where people might be expected to step up and over the curb after getting out of their car: 1.3″, 2.3″ and 2.8″ lower.
I concluded that ‘expectation‘ played a part in my fall. Like all of us, I walk over curbs all the time without looking down, expecting them to be a typical and uniform height. I certainly don’t expect the height of a curb to change within a few feet.
And, as turned out at the site, the curb wasn’t built higher, there was a depression in the parking lot surface exposing more of the curb.
It was easy to see this by getting down on your hands and knees and looking along the top of the curb and seeing that it was uniformly graded. It was also easy to see that the parking lot was not uniformly graded at my accident site.
It was either built this way or subsided on a compressible sub-grade – the foundation soils beneath the pavement were compressible.
Why didn’t I see the subsidence in the pavement? Well, it’s not something you expect to see in a parking lot surface. The accident site is in an area of town that is relatively new with a well designed and constructed look.
The personal experience take-away from this?: Respect for how a simple one or two inch (1″ or 2″) change in level at a site can can cause a serious trip and fall accident. The cause of the tiniest, irregular feature at a site must be investigated – why the subsidence in the pavement at this site? Luckily I got out of this with my head intact – no concussion – but it could have been worst.
The height of the curb was quite a revelation but so too was the attention I got after I fell. I remember lying there on the concrete sidewalk with head and shoulders on the lawn by the sidewalk. Stunned for a few moments then trying to get up to lie against the post marking the location of the disabled parking lot.
More moments passed and I was conscious of a pickup truck stopping and the driver jumping out and running towards me calling out to his assistant to bring the first aid kit. Then conscious of a woman and a guy coming out of the building. And another woman with an oatcake. All asking if I was okay; the truck driver getting down to help me up against the disabled post. I learned later that my face was a bloody mess to look at by all those on the sidewalk with me.
I heard a first-responder’s siren off in the distance and wondered where they were going in a hurry. I quickly learned to me, brief minutes after I had fallen. Impressive. For sure my face prompted someone to call 911.
Lots of questioning and testing of my vitals followed. Through it all I explained why I was there and produced a form for the safety equipment – I was determined to follow through on why I was there. I also imagine I was being engaged in conversation as part of the assessment.
More minutes passed, a chair was brought out and I managed to get on it. The vitals were all pretty good, not perfect considering the whack I got but okay. Then suggestions from all around to go to Emerg. No way I was going there considering the wait-time reputation these places have and signed off to that effect with the first responders.
More time passed and I managed to walk into the office building and sit down in a recreation area. As determined as I was to push back against this broadside I realized I shouldn’t drive in rush hour traffic and called neighbours who came and got me. While waiting I got up and walked around the recreation room several times, taking back my life.
My resolve was challenged again in the evening when two of my daughters called on FaceTime on a family matter – surprised, to say the least, to see the messy face and hear the trip and fall report.
Considering that both are in medical fields I got more questions about going to Emerg and comments from them on brain bleeding, concussion and not waking up in the morning. I just couldn’t go there and those moments passed. I was beginning to feel quite okay then but I did agree not to drive the next day.
I learned a few hours later from a medical doc friend that brain injury would have presented within short hours of my fall. I was sorry to be awkward about going to Emerg with the women and man who were quick to act, the first responders who were good, and my daughters who were concerned – I just had to push back.
(Posted by Eric E. Jorden, M.Sc., P.Eng. Consulting Professional Engineer, Forensic Engineer, Geotechnology Ltd., Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada September 2, 2021 firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Note: The foregoing is not a report on a forensic engineering investigation)