Have you noticed that when people slip, trip or fall, they often look around in bewilderment at the circumstances that possibly could have knocked them off balance?

While sometimes it may seem that people trip on their own two feet, more often there is some real culprit that caused them to get up close and personal with the floor.

So much depends on co-efficiency of traction. The lower the traction, the greater the risk for a fall, especially when the surface gets wet. And the reverse is true.

“A slip occurs when someone steps on a surface and traction is lost between the bottom of the shoe or foot and the surface they are walking on,” says Steve Spencer, facilities specialist with State Farm Insurance, Bloomington, Illinois.

Contrast that with a trip, in which someone, while walking, makes contact with something that impedes his or her progress. The latter could be anything from a cord to uneven flooring to, ironically, a caution sign that says, “Wet Floor.”

Also, residue from buffing a floor that isn’t swept up properly afterward can be a slip hazard.

At least half of all slips and falls are because of the floor itself, while the second most common cause is due to the types of shoes that people wear; high heels, for example, reduce contact between the bottom of the foot and the surface on which someone is walking.

Often, the cleaning substance is at fault, particularly those that leave a residue; those fragrant products with oils are the most common culprits. On the National Floor Safety Institute’s (NFSI) website, the organization lists certified chemicals, tested in the field, that will maintain a floor’s high traction.

In addition, slips can happen as a result of moisture from the weather being tracked inside, or even residues from asphalt parking lots, which catch oil, fluids and grease leaking from cars.

“Any type of liquid that gets on the floor has the potential for a slip and fall,” says Spencer.

Even mats, designed to help absorb moisture, can be a trip hazard if they’re not maintained properly; care should be taken so that they don’t buckle or fray.

Another factor is that we live in a society of distraction. Sometimes called ‘petextrians,’ people that text and walk are more likely to fall.

And lastly, age is a common reason for slips and falls.

“Part of it is also that our population is aging; the average age of the population has gone up 10 years in the last 50 years,” says Spencer.

Hilary Daninhirsch is a freelance writer based in Pittsburgh.