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Slips and Trips

Published: 10th Oct 2007

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Workers views on this important issue

This report presents baseline findings from a survey on IOSH members’ views on the issue of slips and trips. The findings build a picture of how the issue is currently perceived, what’s being done about it and what additional support IOSH members feel they’d like. Annual surveys in 2007 and 2008 will provide both IOSH and HSE with further valuable information on how the situation is changing.

The report begins by looking at how much importance IOSH members attach to the issue of slips and trips. It appears that they’re regarded as a relevant issue and among the main priorities of most members’ organisations. However, when pushed, survey respondents admitted that slips and trips are rarely a priority over everything else, and that ultimately other issues are more important, which is perhaps not surprising. It should also be remembered that those who took part in the survey (31 per cent of those approached) may have been more focused on the issue in the first place; we therefore might not expect to see the same level of interest amongst members as a whole. Therefore, while the issue is definitely on many members’ agendas, there’s still a fair way to go to achieve the desired level of engagement.

The reasonably high priority given to slips and trips appears to be reflected in members’ commitment to dealing with it - eight out of 10 feel that their organisations are committed to tackling the issue. Therefore, other than a few isolated comments, there is no evidence to suggest that members regard the issue as trivial. Encouragingly, members also see room for improvement - only 13 per cent consider their organisations to be already fully effective.

Just over half the respondents feel they have enough general guidance on the issue of slips and trips, although there still seems to be considerable demand for more technical guidance and benchmarking data.

Getting workers involved and changing their behaviour seem to be key issues for members looking to address slips and trips. Only around one in 10 respondents feel that good practice is ‘always’ implemented and a similar portion feel that workers are fully committed to co-operating in reducing risks. Furthermore a considerable number of respondents asked for more help to persuade workers to get involved in the issue and to improve their behaviour.

Survey aims

Slips and trips are the main cause of major injuries in the workplace and therefore are the target one of the HSE’s and IOSH’s priority programmes for injury reduction. Specifically, the HSE is looking to reduce the number of reported major injuries caused by slips and trips by about 450 per year by 2008. Achieving this target would represent an important contribution to the HSE’s overall target for injury reduction as stated in its public service agreement for 2005–2008. In working towards this aim, the HSE’s slips and trips team is undertaking a range of activities, including communications, training events and research. This includes work with stakeholders to promote the issue of slips and trips, to explore ways of addressing risk factors and to track improvements in safety culture.

Main findings

Current outlook on slips and trips

What priority is given to slips and trips compared to other hazards?

The starting point of the survey was to establish the relative importance that members give to slips and trips compared to some other health and safety issues.

Firstly, slips and trips appear to be the most recognised hazard among IOSH members, with 90 per cent of respondents listing them as relevant to workers in their organisation. Moreover, over two-thirds of members who say that slips and trips are relevant also include the issue amongst their main priorities. This compares well with, for example, ‘skin problems’, where fewer than one in five members who select it as relevant also see it as a main priority.

IOSH members in larger workplaces and organisations are more likely to select slips and trips as a main priority. This echoes findings from other surveys that the HSE has done on the subject. At the smallest workplaces (1-49 employees), slips and trips are chosen as a priority by just over half of respondents (with similar proportions selecting back problems and falls from height), while at the larger workplaces and organisations it is generally a main priority for around two-thirds of members.

The industrial sector that respondents belong to appears to have less of an affect on the level of priority accorded to slips and trips. Members in all sectors are equally likely to see it as relevant, although members in construction are slightly more likely than average to see it as a main priority (70 per cent compared to 61 per cent overall).

How do members think their organisations are doing on slips and trips?

As a way of gauging current performance on tackling slips and trips compared to other hazards, respondents were asked to choose one of three options to describe current conditions. These were:

  • We have looked at this, but still have more work to do to tackle it
  • There is still a small amount of work to do to minimise this risk completely
  • We are now fully effective in dealing with this issue

The figure below shows the distribution of responses both for slips and trips and for a selection of other hazards. It shows that stress stands out as an area where IOSH members clearly feel that there is more to do, while slips and trips are on a par with vehicular accidents, back problems and hand-arm vibration.

Respondents were also asked for the views on the extent to which ‘good practice and practical control measures’ are implemented successfully across their organisations. Significantly, very few (less than 10 per cent) felt that good practice and practical control measures were adopted comprehensively across their organisation. On the other hand, by far the largest group of respondents felt that good practice and practical control measures were ‘mostly’ adopted consistently, although a considerable proportion (28 per cent) felt that implementation was worse than this. Given that IOSH and the HSE are aiming for further improvement in managing risks from slips and trips, these findings are encouraging, as they demonstrate that IOSH members do recognise that there is scope for improvement.

Members in the smallest workplaces (1–49 workers) are slightly more likely to say that good practice and control measures are implemented ‘always’ or ‘mostly’ (76 per cent). In terms of sector, there appears to be a divide between public administration and health and construction, where about two-thirds of members feel that good practice is implemented always or most of the time, and manufacturing and other sectors, where this figure is higher (three-quarters).

Attitudes towards slips and trips

Respondents were asked to say to what extent they agreed or disagreed with a series of attitude statements about slips and trips.

  • Most IOSH members believe that their organisations are committed to reducing the risk of slipping and tripping, although fewer than half (42 per cent) agree strongly that this is true. Members who work in the public administration and health sector are less likely to think their organisations are committed (just 29 per cent say that they ‘agree strongly’)
  • Members are less likely to feel positively about the commitment of the workforce. Just over one in ten (13 per cent) strongly agree that workers are co-operating fully. This is a similar proportion to those who disagree that workers are co-operating (although this rises to 18 per cent of members in the construction sector)
  • Just under three-quarters (72 per cent) would expect an HSE inspector to check for slip and trip risks, a view which is consistent across different sectors and size bands.

Control measures

What control measures are used?

This section looks more closely at specific measures to control risk that members may or may not be using. All of the findings can be viewed as a ‘baseline’ against which future performance can be measured; this means that more interesting results will emerge later in 2007, once the survey is repeated.

Firstly, respondents were shown a list of different measures to control slip and trip risk. They were asked to say which, if any, were in place where they work.

The two most popular measures are both about persuading workers to be aware of and to tackle different risks, and the third relates to warning workers about specific hazards. In line with other surveys that the HSE has conducted on this issue, more tangible activities such as setting targets and testing flooring materials tend to appear further down the list of actions taken.

Questions on specific control measures

We also explored the use of some of the control measures listed in more depth. The commonest control measure is to ‘tell workers to keep things tidy’. In most cases IOSH members believe that their workers ‘mostly’ follow these instructions. This mirrors the earlier finding that good practice is ‘mostly’ implemented in organisations.

Current activities targeting slips and trips Respondents using these activities (%)†
Asking workers to keep things tidy and clean up 89
Raising workers’ awareness of slip and trip prevention 80
Using warning signs if floors are damaged, contaminated or being cleaned 79
Considering slip and trip risks when designing equipment or work activities 60
Providing workers with slip-resistant footwear 53
Consulting workers about slip and trip hazards 51
Using a cleaning system that takes into account the need to reduce slip and trip risks 50
Carrying out formal slip and trip risk assessments 45
Testing the slipperiness of floor materials 24
Setting targets for reducing slips and trips 17
Accident/incident investigation 1
Changing or improving flooring 1
Other 5
None of these 1

Looking at the second most common control measure - ‘providing training and information to raise awareness’ - it seems that just under half of respondents have done this with their workers within the last six months, rising to six out of 10 over the last year. These answers suggest that quite a lot of awareness raising is already taking place, though there is of course room for improvement. It will be interesting to see whether this increases over the next year.

IOSH members report two main methods for consulting workers about slips and trips: face-to-face meetings (41 per cent) and safety representatives (34 per cent). Very few workplaces seem to have adopted a more systematic approach – this is illustrated by the low proportion selecting surveys and questionnaires.

One in five IOSH members who responded to the survey said that they had reviewed their cleaning system to minimise slips and trips in the last six months, rising to one in three over the last year. Again, this is fairly encouraging, although with the emphasis that the HSE has been placing on cleaning in 2006–07, we should be looking to see this figure improve considerably by the time of the next survey.

The Table above shows that fairly low scores are achieved for ‘testing the slipperiness of flooring materials’. Although one in four respondents (24 per cent) claim that they do this, only half appear to use approaches that are endorsed by the HSE (Slips Assessment Tool (SAT), Sutronic Duo and Pendulum). As with reviewing cleaning materials, this is a substantial component of the HSE’s work on slips and trips; an increase in these scores by the time of the next survey would be very welcome.

Changes in the last six months

The final set of questions on control measures asked respondents whether their organisation had made any changes during the last six months to the way it manages the risk of slipping or tripping.

About one in three members have observed some change, which is broadly consistent with the HSE’s annual Fit3 survey of duty holders. The proportion of members who say that their organisation has made changes is consistent across different workplaces sizes, but varies by sector.

Organisations in the construction and manufacturing sectors are more likely to have made changes, while those in public administration and health and ‘other’ sectors are slightly less likely to have done so.

The most frequently mentioned change has been to provide more training and information to workers, (which includes activities such as putting up posters, posting intranet notices and running training courses). This is followed by changes to risk assessment procedures (mentioned by one in four) and changes to cleaning regimes.

The following quotes provide a flavour of some of the responses we received.

Re-examined training and awareness on slips and trips, raised awareness in areas worst affected (according to accident figures), and worked with employees on how to reduce incidents. (Health and safety policy, defence industry)

Review of cleaning methods, ie adopt dry/flat mopping systems instead of wet mopping. (Health and safety manager, leisure/hospitality)

We have raised awareness, and any slip incident investigation involves us completing a pendulum test measurement. We have also conducted various mini H&S audits in our ‘higher risk’ areas and have reviewed cleaning schedules and training, education and awareness in some areas. (Head of health and safety and occupational health, telecoms industry)

Implemented a comprehensive plan of resurfacing those existing areas that were similar to those surfaces which had historically occasionally been a subject of concern. WE communicate closely with third party on site contractors about their performance. Inspections are carried out several times per month - the main focuses being floor condition, trip hazards and risk to falls. (Health and safety adviser, leisure/hospitality)

Teams of employees have visited all areas to identify slipping/tripping hazards. These have been highlighted and a prioritised action list drawn up. (Safety adviser, manufacturing)

Newly installed production flow-line has matting provided at each workstation. All liquids are bunded. The floor has been resurfaced. Using the SAT tool the cleaners now know which cleaning method to use. (Health, safety and environment officer, manufacturing)

Help and guidance

As well as helping both the HSE and IOSH to understand better how slips and trips are currently being managed in workplaces, the survey was also designed to find new ways of helping IOSH members to tackle the issue. The final section of this report looks at how members currently receive support and what further support they think they need.

How have members received support?

The HSE’s website and guidance materials are clearly the main sources of information about slips and trips used by IOSH members. Nearly three-quarters of respondents had accessed the website for information and just under half considered it to be their most useful source.

Respondents were specifically asked about the three main resources that they might use to tackle slips and trips and whether they would welcome additional support. Over half felt that they already had sufficient guidance material that showed how to tackle risks, but fewer felt that they had enough on techniques for assessing risks and, in particular, benchmarking information.

Following on from the previous question, ‘benchmarking information’ was also the most mentioned source of additional guidance that respondents said they wanted, along with more technical guidance and case studies or examples of good practice

What else could IOSH and the HSE do to help?

Finally, respondents were asked to suggest what else the HSE or IOSH could do to help them or their organisations reduce the risks of slips and trips. There was no overwhelming consensus to the responses members gave, although one in six respondents suggested further promotional work to raise the profile of the issue. Conversely one in five felt that there was nothing more that IOSH or the HSE could do to help.

The second most popular suggestion was for help in dealing with workers, and for addressing what are sometimes referred to as ‘human factors’. This indicates a general concern that although risk factors can gradually be removed from the physical environment, there is still more to do to improve the behaviour and commitment of workers. In the majority of responses this was not a request for more information on what the ‘human factors’ might be; rather, respondents were expressing a need for more resources or suggestions for getting workers on board or involved, and for encouraging them to adopt more sensible behaviours.

One group of suggestions were all mentioned by 7 per cent of those answering the question. ‘Sector-specific material’, ‘seminars’ and ‘case studies’ are all familiar requests to the HSE and IOSH, but perhaps the most interesting finding is the 7 per cent who prioritised site visits and inspections as helpful to them in tackling the issue.

The following are examples of the free text comments given by respondents:

We manage a large number of subcontractors and it would be encouraging if a campaign were launched to tackle smaller organisations. The recent radio campaign tackling falls from height was very effective and something along this line could be helpful. (Regional safety adviser, construction)

I think there is certainly enough information out there for reference – the issue is applying it to everyday work activities by the employing organisation. I attended an HSE slips and trips road show a couple of years ago – perhaps the HSE could consider touring with some form of road show for larger organisations identified as having issues with slips and trips. (Health and safety adviser, food manufacturing)

It is all about economics – free is always best. IOSH does not market, in my opinion, robustly enough. Should send an email link like a regular newsletter. The unions are another great source of material – the TUC newsletter gives great links to studies etc. The HSE has the balance about right. (Safety, risk and facilities manager, transport)

Conclusion

We can draw the following key points from this initial baseline study:

Currently, eight out of 10 IOSH members feel that their organisations are committed to dealing with the slip and trip issue. In addition, most feel that there is much more work to be done in this area to be fully effective.

A wide range of control measures are in use. The most popular are concerned with persuading or warning workers to be aware of and to tackle slip and trip risks. Of particular interest, given the current focus of HSE activity, were the numbers who are reviewing their cleaning systems – a third of members – and testing the slipperiness of flooring using HSE endorsed techniques – one in 10.

Members also recognise that encouraging involvement and good behaviour on the part of workers is a hurdle to adopting consistent good practice.

Over half the respondents feel they have enough general guidance on slips and trips. There was more demand for information on techniques for assessing risks and, specifically, for benchmarking information. There was no clear consensus on what was needed to help improve risk control. A main aim of this survey was to establish a baseline against which future progress on attitudes towards slips and can be measured. Therefore, whilst this report is able to show a general picture on how slips and trips are being managed, the real value of the work will be seen once further waves have been completed in 2007–08. One important point to note is that the survey was successfully administered and received a reasonably good response rate. We therefore now know that this is a viable approach for future work.

Published: 10th Oct 2007 in Health and Safety International

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