The other morning, a friend of mine told me that the temperature was -7ºC when she got into her car to go to work. So there it is – winter is finally here. All of a sudden we start to think of gritting car parks and walkways to reduce the risk of slips, trips and falls on the level.
However, the risk of slips, trips, and falls on the level is a year-round issue. It may take on a new significance in the winter months, what with rainwater being tracked into entrance lobbies and the possibility of snow and ice at some point, but attention should be paid to reducing these risks at all times, not just in the winter when the hazards are perhaps more obvious.
The thing with these types of accidents is that they happen so easily and can result in life-changing injuries for some.
I don’t want to get all hysterical and leave you thinking that people can’t move around safely anymore without some hugely expensive and unworkable control measures being put in place, but it may be worthwhile considering some evidence from the HSE that helps us understand the scale of the problem.
The HSE estimate that slips, trips and falls on the level account for a massive 40% of all reported major injuries each year. With approximately 70,000 non-fatal injuries to employees being reported last year, this equates to around 28,000 serious injuries just from slips, trips and falls – over 500 each week, or over 100 each working day, some of which can have very serious outcomes.
I’m reminded of a case I was involved in some years ago. A female worker in a care home was carrying some bedding from a store across a carpeted area and onto a newly cleaned and mopped tiled area. She was wearing appropriate footwear, but couldn’t see exactly where she was going as she had her hands full with the bedding. As she stepped onto the tiled area, she lost her footing and slipped, falling straight onto her bottom and sustaining a wedge fracture of the spinal vertebrae, which ended her working life. A civil claim for damages ensued, which resulted in a large payment to the worker for her pain, suffering, loss of amenity and loss of earnings.
The above incident occurred because the floor had not been cleaned correctly. Specifically, the cleaning fluid had not been diluted properly, so it left a slippery, oily film on the floor. In addition, the worker had to carry her load; there was no trolley to assist. Had the floor been cleaned and mopped properly, or had she been given a trolley to move her load (which, incidentally, would have allowed more to be moved in one go, which would have been more efficient as well as safer) then the incident that ended her working life may never have happened.
The HSE’s ‘Shattered lives’ campaign was started precisely because of the simplicity and seriousness of accidents such as the one outlined above. It highlights the issues and reminds businesses to take simple, yet effective, precautions to reduce the risks, both to staff and to members of the public and visitors.
Taking some simple, straightforward steps (sorry!) to reduce the risks will help your business to avoid unnecessary costs associated with loss of productivity, investigation time, enforcement action and dealing with civil claims that can cause insurance premiums to rise. The measures we recommend include:
Contamination – spills happen easily in workplaces, so have in place a system to clean them up promptly, especially where members of the public may be present;
Obstructions – good housekeeping is a simple, low-cost measure. It also helps to control fire risks as well as creating the appearance of a more orderly working environment;
Cleaning – think about the use of detergents. Have you diluted properly? Use of neat detergent may create slippery surfaces that could be easily avoided. Is it necessary to clean the whole floor, or would spot cleaning achieve the same result? If ‘wet’ cleaning techniques are used, be sure to dry mop then mark the area with a sign so that people are aware that the floor is still wet – especially if lighting is poor;
Floor materials – if you have taken over a new workplace or have changed the use of a part of your current workplace, then it may be worthwhile looking at the material from which the floor is made. The HSE has created a Slip Assessment Tool, where the type of floor material is considered alongside other issues;
Footwear – mandate the wearing of specific types of footwear in areas like kitchens and workshops etc. It is less easy to control what is worn by visitors or office staff, although it might be possible to give advice. More effective would be to control the environment through effective housekeeping to reduce the impact of inappropriate footwear;
Use – consider who will be using the area. Floor surfaces used by the very young, disabled persons and the very old may need greater slip resistance. Higher levels of friction will also be needed if pushing or pulling heavy loads (ever tried moving a heavy trolley across ice?) The use may also cause damage to the floor surface, so check for defects and have a repair system in place;
Behaviour – as a boy I was always being told not to run in corridors. They had a point – running or horseplay are liable to substantially increase the risk of slips and trips, so don’t do it.
In the time taken to read this article, two people have sustained serious injuries from slips, trips and falls on the level at work. This is amazing when we think how easy these are to prevent. I think you’ll agree that none of the solutions suggested above are difficult and few have major cost implications. Paying attention to each of these factors can bring about a reduced risk of slips and trips, with lower levels of injury and reduced costs associated with such accidents.