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Slips, Trips and Falls Lead to Shattered Lives

Published: 01st Jul 2008

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HSE campaign aims to change attitudes

'Accidents can shatter lives.' That's the key message of a campaign launched by the Health and Safety Executive this February. The campaign - 'Shattered Lives' - encourages a step-change in the attitudes of employers and their employees, to help them reduce the number of serious injuries to themselves and their colleagues. The duty of care for employees rests with employers but anyone at work can help to reduce slips, trips and falls from height in the workplace.

The campaign focuses on five priority sectors – food and drink manufacture, hotel and catering, food retail, construction and building and plant maintenance and asks, ‘If you spot a hazard, don’t assume somebody else will sort it out’

This article, which concentrates on slips and trips, looks at why the campaign has been launched, the seriousness of the issue, what can be done about it, and future plans.

At a figure of about 11,000, slips and trips remain the most common cause of all major injuries reported to HSE last year, – under the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations – they accounted for over a third of all injuries at work. These injuries are not trivial as nearly 90% result in bone fractures. Burns and cuts can be a further consequence, especially for those working in the catering sector. Slips and trips are very often a contributory factor to falls from vehicles and to falls from height more generally.

The cost of these accidents is high. There are the significant business costs associated with slips and trips. Overall we estimate that these types of accident cost over £500 million per year, based on those injuries reported to us. A third of all claims under the Employer Liability Compensation Insurance scheme concern slipping and tripping incidents. And there are many cases where significant compensation has been paid by companies under civil law for failing to prevent members of the public from being exposed to slips and trips from work activities. For smaller companies, these financial penalties can put their businesses under severe strain.

There is crucially of course the human cost; the pain caused by the accident itself; the knock on inconvenience to social and leisure life; loss of earnings and, in the more extreme cases, permanent damage to health; and a long term reliance on State support.

Yet the very great majority of these incidents are preventable – where proper consideration is given to assessing and managing risks and promoting a culture where slips and trips are not seen as inevitable but rather, avoidable.

HSE’s priority programme

HSE has included slips and trips as one of its priority injury programmes since the launch of its 10 year Revitalising Strategy in 2000. While initiatives had been run prior to that in certain sectors, such as food manufacturing – where there was a recognised problem – this is the first time that a national effort has been focused at raising awareness of slips and trips and promoting measures to help employers and others tackle the issue.

Prompted by national publicity efforts, such as the ‘Watch Your Step campaign,’ in 2005 and targeted interventions in sectors such as health and education, the broad survey evidence points to much growing awareness that slips and trips are an issue for employers. 90% selected them as relevant to their workers and a growing number, almost 70%, stated that they were one of the three top priorities for their organisations.

Frustratingly however, the number of injuries reported to us from slips and trips is not decreasing. The principal reasons for this are that:

  • Despite employers recognising that there is an issue, there is a gap between; turning that awareness into putting effective controls in place, and developing the right behavioural and cultural approach amongst all workers. They need to recognise slip and trip risks as something to be taken seriously, and do something about them, rather than assuming somebody else will sort it out.
  • Our experience also suggests that managers think that they have done all they reasonably can do to prevent slips and trips but once exposed to the information and guidance we provide, realise that much more can be done, not necessarily at any cost to their business.
  • Management controls

    The hierarchy of controls shows the steps that should be considered when faced with a slip risk. The hierarchy follows the traditional formula – take measures to stop or at least contain contamination getting on to the floor, put in place effective cleaning regimes and ensure that environmental conditions are suitable. Where these still fail to stop slips, the next stage is to think about what can be done to improve floor roughness. The provision of slip resistant footwear should be considered. There is also the option of replacing the floor.

    For trips, the following elements need to be considered:

    • obvious trip hazards are cleared through good housekeeping regimes
    • walkways are suitable and well lit;
    • ramps and slopes are highlighted and
    • maintenance regimes are in place for swift repairs

    The key is to have a good management system in place that will identify problems and point to what needs to be done to reduce risks. A good system should include:

  • identifying key areas of risk and setting goals for improvement. Employers should work with employees and their representatives to identify areas on site which could be hot spots for slips and trips. Accident records are of course a good source and we have produced two documents that can help with this process – the “slips and trips mapping tool” and the “slips and trips – hazard spotting checklist” – both available on HSE’s website www.hse.gov./uk/slips;
  • gaining workers’ commitment to reducing risks. People, particularly supervisors, should be given responsibility for ensuring areas of the workplace are kept safe. For example, keeping access routes clear of obstacles, tidying away tools and equipment and cleaning up spillages quickly to engender a “see it, sort it” attitude.
  • checking to ensure that working practices and processes are being carried out properly, – for example, smooth floors are not left wet, housekeeping is good and that leaks are repaired quickly;
  • monitoring accident investigation and inspection reports. Identifying any deficiencies, drawing on the experiences of employees and their representatives.
  • When visiting companies, health and safety enforcement officers look particularly for the following signs of good management of slip and trip risks:

    • Are work activities controlled and machinery and buildings maintained sufficiently to minimise floor contamination?
    • Is floor drainage adequate?
    • Are contamination control measures, for example lids, trays, mats etc, being utilised?
    • Are spillages quickly removed, is floor cleaning suitable?
    • Do floors/footwear have adequate slip resistance?
    • Are walkways kept clear and in good condition?

    Fact: Slips are a big issue, especially where food products are concerned. Much can be done to manage the risks successfully and we know of firms who have as much as halved their accident numbers by simply changing their cleaning regimes or footwear policy. There are methods available to put a stop to these ‘Shattered Lives’.

    Flooring

    Employers have a legal duty, under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, to make sure that their floors are suitable for their intended purpose. The duty concerns both the construction and the physical characteristics of the floor, including that it should not be slippery. Suitability has to take account of the circumstances of use, such as the likelihood of fluids or dusts contaminating the walking surface of the floor. The employer also has a duty to take reasonable steps to keep floors free from substances which could cause a slip.

    Case Study

    A recently appointed safety manager at an East Anglian food processing and packing plant carried out a trend analysis of the company’s accident statistics and identified that many injuries were attributed to slips and trips. Factory management then consulted shop floor colleagues to agree a positive programme to prevent injuries.

    Past incidents were reviewed to identify their underlying causes and the site was surveyed with a critical eye for slip and trip risks. Initial hazards found included: condensation in chilled processing rooms causing wet floors; product spillage and poor housekeeping; poor appreciation of personal risk by staff; poor ergonomic design of certain work areas; inappropriate footwear for some tasks; and floors in some areas not designed to cope with those operating environment.

    The workforce was involved in a process of risk assessment, identifying solutions and prioritisation. Management set a budget and a plan was established to tackle the most significant hazards and the highest risks first.

    • housekeeping training was provided to all colleagues along with awareness sessions on the significance and dangers of slips and trips.
    • the ‘product oiler’ machine was relocated away from pedestrian traffic and fitted with a bund to contain any splashes or spillages.
    • risk assessment training has been given to all colleagues.
    • ‘Safe Behaviour’ workshops are run for all colleagues with the emphasis on collective ownership of health & safety and empowerment of all colleagues to intervene to have hazards and risks tackled.
    • a place for everything and everything in its place housekeeping regime.
    • flooring consultants have been brought in to advise on appropriate flooring throughout the site.
    • footwear trials introduced in areas subject to unavoidably wet conditions.

    The workforce contribution has been particularly strong in the enhanced cleaning regime: improved awareness and reporting, challenging unsafe acts by others and the formation of a company slip and trip action group. Unsafe behaviour has moved from being commonplace to now being something which colleagues and management alike will not accept and will challenge.

    Recorded incidents have fallen by over a quarter so far with optimism that the trend will continue.

    To enable employers to comply with the law, manufacturers and suppliers of flooring should provide information regarding the areas for which their flooring is designed to be used. Where possible, where a product is being marketed as being “slip resistant”, suppliers should provide an indication of the stability of the slip resistance i.e. how it might change over time – often affected by installation, degradation, wear, maintenance and use and instructions as to how to address these issues.

    The judgement from a recent Court of Appeal case – Ellis v Bristol City Council (July 2007) – goes further than previous case law in making it incumbent on employers not only to assess the construction of floors and traffic routes but also to consider whether the flooring has adequate slip resistance to any transient substance that might lie on it on a regular basis that could result in a slip. Extracts from the judgement include “surfaces of floors and traffic routes which are likely to get wet or to be subject to spillages should be of a type which did not become unduly slippery . . . if a smooth floor was frequently or regularly slippery, because of a substance lying on it, albeit temporarily, the surface might properly be said to be unsuitable if the slipperiness was such that as to give rise to a health and safety risk to those employees using it”. It is worth noting that regularly in this context was that there had been three incidents reported over a three year period.

    Consequent to this judgement, the advice from the insurance industry, in allaying further claims of this nature, was that employers would be well advised to assess the purpose for which the floor is used, who uses it and the likelihood of spillages; if the floor is considered slippery, to replace it with a non-slip surface; introduce and supervise a robust cleaning regime, warn employees of potentially slippery surfaces; and instruct employees to report and/or clean spillages immediately

    Case Study

    A local authority Environmental Health Officer visited a large pub-restaurant and noticed that the kitchen floor felt unusually slippery. Kitchen staff confirmed that the floor covering was more slippery than the similar ‘safety’ flooring that it had replaced. The slipperiness did not seem to improve after routine cleaning and attempts to reduce grease deposits by improving the extract ventilation did not seem to have an effect.

    The pub management experimented with different floor cleaning methods to assess whether this could improve the slip resistance but decided that the best option was to replace the floor covering. Management made sure that the new floor covering had been reliably tested for slip resistance and that it would be expected to perform well in a commercial kitchen.

    The replacement floor (a ‘safety’ epoxy material with anti-slip particles) was tested once installed and the results indicated that it ought to perform well in both dry conditions and when subject to the sort of expected contamination.

    The company is now reviewing its flooring specification standards across its estate. It is also considering what needs to be done about its sites that have already been refurbished and equipped with the type of floor covering that has had to be removed from this site.

    Getting reliable information about the slip resistance performance of floor finishes should always be part of the design and specification process and is especially important where there is a risk of floors becoming wet or contaminated.

    Cleaning regimes

    People seldom slip on a clean, dry floor. Floor cleaning is a routine procedure but if not done correctly, can lead to surfaces that remain slippery. It affects the surface properties of the floor, the safety of pedestrians (and the cleaners themselves), the control of contamination and obstacles and in ensuring adequate levels of hygiene.

    Research shows how influential using correct cleaning procedures can be; that cleaning processes are often poorly thought through; and cleaners are rarely involved in deciding how things are done. Where carried out effectively, it can make the difference between a floor presenting an unacceptably high risk and one that is acceptably low. This may simply be achieved by cleaning a smooth floor in such a way as to leave it dry or it may involve the removal, by detergent, of greasy deposits. Equally we know the pitfalls of inappropriate cleaning even though obvious contamination may have been removed – the floor remains slippery due to a light residue of undetectable cleaning fluid.

    Again it is important that a good management system involves:

  • Planning to ensure the correct regime is chosen for the type of floor, taking into account how the floor is used, by whom, when it is used and the contamination likely to be present. Thought should be given as to how spills will be cleaned up between whole floor cleaning;
  • organising work and talking to staff to make sure the planning stage is implemented;
  • ensuring that cleaning processes are carried out properly, for example that access is prevented to wet, smooth floors;
  • effective training and supervision is in place. Cleaners should be encouraged to report any difficulties in carrying out their work.
  • Fact: Almost 1000 slips and trips major injuries occurred in the retail sector last year, mostly in supermarkets and other stores that sell food e.g. butchers, bakers etc. Making improvements in this industry is key. You can help put a stop to these “Shattered Lives”.

    Case Study

    An investigation by a local authority environmental health officer into a slipping accident to an employee at a commercial sales office and showroom highlighted the need for a review of the company’s cleaning regime in their risk assessment. Entrance matting was also seen as an area of concern.

    An employee had slipped on an area of flooring that had been mopped but not dried properly. The company’s ‘General Procedures and Safety Precautions’ had stated ‘Do not walk on wet or newly polished floors’. However, wet cleaning took place during working hours when staff were always moving around their desks.

    It was suggested that cleaning should take place outside work hours but this was not possible because of security reasons. Instead the company adopted a new regime which cleaned and dried floors without leaving them wet. They also made materials available for staff to ‘spot clean’ any localised spillages.

    The company has now carried out a specific slips and trips risk assessment., They have increased the size and positioning of their entrance matting systems as well as introducing the dry cleaning regime.

    There have been no further slipping accidents to date.

    Footwear selection

    On the issue of footwear selection, some companies have found that providing the right footwear to employees has significantly reduced slip incidents. It is important to explore with suppliers whether their products will suit the environment in which the footwear will be worn. It is prudent to test the footwear out in a trial rather than selecting purely on brochure descriptions – which can be misleading – or on laboratory tests alone. Some footwear for which slip resistance is claimed, may not perform well in certain demanding conditions. For example, shoes that perform well in wet conditions might not be able to cope with food spillages.

    The Health and Safety Laboratory has been conducting research into footwear slip resistance, the findings of which can be viewed at www.hse.gov.uk/slips/additionalfootwear.html

    Shattered Lives. . . to be continued

    So far, through the Shattered Lives campaign, we have encouraged 800,000 visitors to the website. We are now pressing further ahead with our efforts to reduce the number of serious injuries caused by slips and trips.

    Our targeted initiatives aimed at the catering and hospitality industry, food manufacture, food retail and at the cleaning industry will continue. These will be supported by operational activity to ensure that better management systems are in place and working.

    We are encouraging employers, trade bodies and trade unions to use the campaign materials in their workplaces. We intend to launch an exciting, innovative, interactive e-learning package on slips and trips in the autumn.

    This package will have tailored learning modules aimed at health and safety professionals, managers, supervisors and safety representatives, and workers. Currently we are evaluating the overall package with a view to producing sector specific modules for the health, education, catering and food manufacturing sectors

    Please sign up to our e-bulletin at www.hse.gov.uk/slips/ebulletin/index.htm, or check out our website, to keep up to date with developments on slips and trips (and falls from height) and to get involved.

    Free resources have been produced to help staff in kick-starting ‘Shattered Lives’ campaigns their own organisations and these include:

    • Leaflets
    • Posters
    • Information packs can be downloaded from: http://www.hse.gov.uk/shatteredlives/resources.htm

    Case Study

    Workers at a pet food factory were facing problems from slipping in the environment in which they worked. The work processes meant that it was very difficult to stop contamination getting onto the floor. The company had tried many options to reduce slipping risks including anti-slip floors and providing workers with footwear.

    The company’s health and safety managers, in discussion with workers, decided to trial a new style of footwear which had been shown to be highly slip resistant when tested at HSE’s Health and Safety Laboratory.

    At the end of the seven-month trial, a group of workers using traditional footwear had suffered 15 slip injuries. A similar group using the new footwear had suffered no injuries. The cost of providing the new shoes was more expensive but they lasted longer than their traditional footwear (several pairs lasted three times as long).

    However, because of the reduction in slip accidents, and the associated savings in lost time etc, the company saved approximately £12,000 in the trial period. The workers also found the new shoes very comfortable

    Managers and workers were so impressed with the new footwear that 75% of the 300 workers on site are now wearing them and no-one has had a slip accident to date

    For further information on stopping slips, trips and falls, visit the ‘Shattered Lives’ dedicated website http://www.hse.gov.uk/shatteredlives/index.htm and by calling infoline on 0845 345 0055..

    Published: 01st Jul 2008 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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