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Slips, Trips and Falls 

Published: 01st Jul 2009

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The risks and how to prevent them

Last year, 61 people died and more than 14,000 suffered serious injury as a result of a slip, trip or fall from height in British workplaces. These incidents also cost British society an estimated £700 million.

These shocking statistics prompted the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to launch a campaign to raise awareness about the risks and how to prevent them.

Now in its second phase, the new focus of the ‘Shattered Lives’ campaign is the devastating consequences of slips, trips and falls especially in the sectors of food retail, catering and hospitality, food and drink manufacturing, building and plant maintenance, construction, healthcare and education, where these injuries are most common. The campaign encourages employers, to work with their employees, to ‘take action’.

A major part of the new campaign is the launch of a free new interactive learning package. ‘STEP’. This provides practical guidance to help those workers responsible for health and safety to tackle slips and trips in their workplace. It can be accessed online at www.hse.gov.uk/slips/step

The website has already received more than 900,000 visitors and as well as giving access to STEP it offers a wealth of information about how to avoid unnecessary accidents at work.

Evaluation of the first phase shows that the campaign has begun to change attitudes and now HSE is keen to build upon the momentum by encouraging business to take action.

"People often view slips, trips and falls as trivial incidents, even comical but they are no joke to those who suffer major injuries, a lifetime of disability, time off work and in the worst cases death," says Marcia Davies, HSE Head of the Injury Reduction Programme.

"We want more people to understand how these incidents can happen and how easily they can be avoided by taking common sense actions and precautions at no, or little, cost. If you spot a hazard in your workplace, manage it or report it to someone who can - don’t assume that somebody else will.

"The lives of workers and their families are shattered by the serious consequences of these types of accidents. Businesses can introduce simple measures to make a positive difference to safety in the workplace."

Most managers know that their business needs to tackle these risks and most have precautionary measures in place. Depending on the degree of risk and the size of business, they may include a policy document and practical arrangements to recover a situation by, for example, cleaning up spillages.

Over time, however, complacency can creep in, and without proper training, new workers may not appreciate the value of such arrangements. ‘Shattered Lives’ and the free STEP tool provide business with an opportunity to re-visit their policies and practical arrangements.

Falls from height

Though there has been a sustained reduction in the number of deaths from falls from height in the past 10 years, it remains the most common kind of fatal injury, accounting for 19 per cent of all fatal injuries to workers.

The majority of falls injuries are as a result of over-reaching, over-balancing, equipment failure,?misuse of equipment, or the collapse of a fragile surface. HSE inspectors often find failure on the part of the duty holders to plan the work properly, assess the risks or make sure that the people involved are competent.

The six common reasons for falls from height are;

  • Failure to recognise a problem
  • Failure to provide safe systems of work
  • Failure to ensure that safe systems of work are followed
  • Failure to use appropriate equipment
  • Failure to provide safe plant/equipment
  • Inadequate information, training, or supervision provided

The Work At Height regulations have now been in force for almost four years. They require duty holders to plan and organise work at height properly and to avoid it altogether if possible. Where it is unavoidable, they require measures to be put in place to prevent anyone falling and if there is still a risk of a fall, the risk of injury should be minimised.

The regulations also require that people involved in work at height are competent to do so, or if in training, are supervised by a competent person. Employers should fully understand what these regulations mean for them and the contractors they employ on their site.

More workers fall from ladders than any other access equipment. On average 12 people a year die at work falling from ladders and nearly 1200 suffer major injuries. Ladders should only be used for low-risk,short-duration work or where site features restrict other equipment. Other work equipment options must be considered before using a ladder.

A North West joiner was severely injured and lucky not to be killed in an accident while working on a ladder. He severed a major tendon and artery in his arm on a broken pain of glass as the ladder he was working on slipped and threw him to the ground. On the day of the incident staff absences had led him to do a job he was not trained for with a young apprentice who also had no training. When concerns were raised with company bosses the pair were told to get on with the job. This bad planning and failure to meet the work at height regulations cost both the employee and the company who were prosecuted by HSE.

HSE has a simple message for ladder users: "if it’s right to use a ladder, use the right ladder and use it safely". For more information and guidance on ladder use visit the HSE website.

A forthcoming e-tool, ‘WAIT’ will help those who need to work at height select the most appropriate access equipment. It is especially useful for self-employed or managers and supervisors of small or medium sized enterprises. WAIT should be available through the shattered lives website from summer 2009.

Always remember the golden rules when planning a job

  • Can you avoid working at height?
  • Can you prevent a fall?
  • Can you minimise the consequences of a fall?

Slips and trips

Workplace slips and trips are the cause of the most common kind of major injury, accounting for 38 per cent of all such injuries. Slips have been proved to be caused by a combination of factors. Failure to maintain equipment, prevent contamination and to provide effective training and supervision

The girl was employed at a fast food restaurant to cook fries. She slipped on water leaking from an ice machine and instinctively put out her hand to break her fall. Her hand was plunged into the deep fat fryer containing boiling hot oil and she suffered severe burns to her hand and forearm.

On the day of the accident the restaurant was short staffed and the team leader was working on the tills instead of monitoring workplace safety. Company policy was to mop up spills but at busy times staff were told to cover spills with cardboard which also created a tripping hazard. The ice making machine had been leaking for several days but no one had responsibility to co-ordinate its repair. The company were prosecuted and fined for their failure to maintain a safe system of work and to carry out a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks associated with slipping in the kitchen.

To avoid unnecessary slips and trips follow these simple tips:

DO:

  • Suggest ways of preventing contamination (water, oils, cardboard, waste etc) from getting onto the floor
  • Clean up a spillage when you see one
  • Dispose of waste materials
  • Remove any obstructions
  • Avoid creating trailing cables
  • Store goods safely
  • Keep workstations clear of obstacles
  • Make sure flooring materials are level and secure.
  • Mark slopes and changes of levels.
  • Ensure you have adequate lighting.
  • Wear sensible footwear.

Think about visitors to your workplace, what do they need to know? Do you need to do more to protect them?

DON’T:

  • Think your entrance design is fine - if rainwater gets onto a smooth surface inside or outside a building, it may create a slip hazard. Good entrance design can help such as canopies.
  • Ignore frost and ice which may create slippery surfaces.
  • Assume that the existing floor surface has enough grip - check it.
  • Let people take shortcuts over grass or dirt which are likely to become slippery when wet. Consider converting existing shortcuts into proper paths.
  • Work in the wrong light - make sure that things like poor lighting or glare don’t prevent people seeing where they are walking.
  • Let the floor get wet or contaminated.
  • Have water or contaminants near walkways.
  • Ignore spillages or contamination that does get onto the floor.
  • Wear shoes with no grip - you need a pair with good grip, so you don’t slip.

STEP reaffirms many of these simple, but important messages.

To find out more about the shattered lives campaign and slips, trips and falls visit www.hse.gov.uk/shatteredlives

Published: 01st Jul 2009 in Health and Safety International

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Simple mistakes can shatter lives, your actions could stop them happening. You might think you’re doing everything you can to prevent slips, trips and falls in your workplace, but everyone could do a lot more.
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