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Slips, Trips and Falls - Responses and caution must be heightened in the workplace

Published: 10th Nov 2010


The grim statistic that confronts industry and commerce is that according to the HSE, at least one third of all reported industrial accidents are caused by slips, trips and falls in the UK workplace.

At that time there were a number of slips, trips, falls and the associated accidents cost industry more than £500 million pounds a year, not forgetting how much the damages can escalate of any claim if an aggressive solicitor is engaged to fight the case against a negligent or unwitting employer.

Ignorance, lack of specific competence and poor safety training is not considered a legitimate or viable defence under European and English law.

Individuals who have been injured by a fall or a trip can suffer loss of income, pain and long term disability, reduced quality of life and the worry and stress that follows if you cannot sustain your family or way of life. It would therefore follow that an injured party who became disabled would feel very aggrieved if this resulted from a poorly managed workplace, or a badly maintained work area.

We are all so used to good walking surfaces that our responses and sense of caution are not necessarily heightened in the workplace; we just expect to be able to walk around any workplace or common area without any danger. Unfortunately there are also pernicious persons who are on the look out for dangerous access conditions so that they can take advantage of our legal system to press for damages and enrich themselves at the expense of insurers, councils and commercial companies.

Close statistical analysis has shown that the health service bears the cost of £133 million pounds a year from treating and caring for patients who have been injured, and days spent in a hospital add up to 698,336 wasted work days. Given these injuries are sustained from situations that can be simply rectified it is amazing that we tolerate such a glut of work place accidents.

Hidden costs also include the loss of important members of the workplace teams for long periods, damage to plant and equipment and the time it takes to investigate an incident. There is another X factor in all incidents: the loss of staff morale and the feeling that the accident could have been avoided. For those of us who manage the workplace it is not easy to encourage young workers or recalcitrant operatives to clear up mess and loose materials, but the pressure to reduce risk from trips and slips can be as stress inducing as managing the productive activities. Safety officers and managers find there is universal agreement to reduce surplus materials and mess in the workplace, but that despite efforts in the training room bad habits continue in the workplace.

So how do the HSE get to know about workplace accidents? Every employer or duty holder has a legal duty to report any accident, occupational related ill health or incident that involves a three day absence or more, and the local hospital checks admissions data to filter out the workplace injuries or ill health, which are then reported back to the HSE.

The health and safety laws and supporting regulations state that employers have a legal duty to provide a safe system of work and safe access to the workplace.

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HSWA) also specifically requires employers to secure the health and safety of all employees and anyone who may be affected by their work. This includes taking formal and recorded steps to control slip and trip risks.

General duties of employers  to their employees

The means of drying and finishing

1. It shall be the duty of every employer to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees.

2. Without prejudice to the generality of an employer’s duty under the preceding subsection, the matters to which that duty extends include in particular:

• The provision and maintenance of plant and systems of work that are, so far as is reasonably practicable, safe and without risks to health • Arrangements for ensuring, so far as is reasonably practicable, safety and absence of risks to health in connection with the use, handling, storage and transport of articles and substances • The provision of such information, instruction, training and supervision as is necessary to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety at work of his employees • So far as is reasonably practicable as regards any place of work under the employer’s control, the maintenance of it in a condition that is safe and without risks to health and the provision and maintenance of means of access to and egress from it that are safe and without such risks • The provision and maintenance of a working environment for his employees that is, so far as is reasonably?practicable, safe, without risks to health, and adequate as regards facilities and arrangements for their welfare at work

Employees also hold a legally binding duty not to endanger themselves or others, and must use any safety equipment or PPE provided.

The regulations enforce the legal provisions that manufacturers and suppliers are conferred with the duty to ensure that their products and safe work procedures are safe. They must also provide adequate information about the appropriate use of any product or equipment in the workplace.

There is a raft of relevant legislation which is used by many litigants - that of the legal requirement to provide safe access to the workplace.

We have experienced many situations on mobile work sites where the employer has cleared an area to work safely, but has not considered that the workforce has to scramble under scaffolds or jump over trenches for access. It is therefore very important to risk assess and consider the pathways, common parts and roads to avoid the likelihood of trips, slips and falls.

When considering any risk reduction perspective, remember that health and safety laws and regulations are only there to achieve one aim - to ensure that any person in the workplace is inherently safe and not at risk. Our multi layered society with its many vested interests means it is difficult to make a ‘one size fits all’ set of health and safety legislation which can survive the scrutiny of the legal profession. Trips and slips injuries fall into that very obscure category of workplace injuries that can easily be eradicated from the workplace.

So let us look at some binding duties employers retain and workplace supervisors have in regard to the workplace to reduce slips, trips and falls as well as promoting good workplace house keeping.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 built on HSWA and includes duties on employers to assess risks (including slip and trip risks) and, where necessary, take action to safeguard health and safety.

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 requires floors to be suitable, in good condition and free from obstructions. People must be able to move around safely.

As we can see, buried in many of the regulations and codes of good practice there is very implicit guidance for employers to reduce the danger in all work areas by maintaining clean surfaces, common parts, and clear access and fire egress routes. Just tripping over a corner of loose carpet can leave someone with an injury that can affect their health for the rest of their life.

How do we reduce the risk in the workplace? Supervisors, cleaners or persons with delegated authority making frequent sweeps of the workplace can be useful in de-cluttering the work place. The best way, however, it to empower and train staff to be self-regulating and pick stuff up, without being cajoled by stressed out work supervisors.

Some manufacturing processes generate a huge volume of blanks and off cuts of material, and if new production methods are to be introduced into the workplace it is incumbent upon the management team to consider how the waste material will impact on the housekeeping of the enterprise.

Get conditions right from the start by choosing suitable floor surfaces, avoiding very smooth floors in areas that will become wet/contaminated (such as kitchens and entrance halls). Ensure lighting levels are sufficient - there are minimum light levels to be maintained at all times 0 and properly plan pedestrian and traffic routes and avoid overcrowding.

Selecting the correct type of floor covering for a work area can be an important part of the design, maintenance or refurbishment of a working area. There are so many non slip or limited slip products on the market it would be reckless not to lay a non slip surface in a wet area, or a limited slip surface in a workroom situation. And remember, these surfaces may need special cleaning products or machinery to keep the floor surface in prime condition.

Cleaning methods and equipment must be suitable for the type of surface being treated. You may need to get advice from the manufacturer or supplier. Take care not to create additional slip or trip hazards while cleaning and maintenance work is being done. Set up pedestrian barriers and or bunting to keep out persons and children who might slip when cleaning operations are carried out.

For efficient cleaning and maintenance of floor surfaces workers need to be trained in the correct use of any safety and cleaning equipment provided. Carry out all necessary maintenance work promptly (you may need to get outside help or guidance). Include inspection, testing, adjustment and cleaning at suitable intervals. Keep records so that the cleaning frequency and system of work can be checked.

Record keeping and visual evidence will be a very effective method of rebutting claims from persons who might try to make a claim for bogus damages; it is an unfortunate fact of life that some of your workers or visitors might engineer fictitious situations to make financial claims.

Daylight streaming through clean windows and well maintained lighting should enable people to see obstructions or potentially slippery areas. Replace, repair or clean lights and replace bulbs before light levels become too low for safe work. Increasing light levels in warehouses and common parts can also highlight bad housekeeping – it is difficult to justify poor cleaning of the workplace if it obvious that the walls, floors and joinery items are filthy and polluted with dirt and slippery media.

Floors need to be checked by work supervisors and the workforce for loose finishes, holes and cracks, worn rugs and mats. Take care in the choice of floor if it is likely to become wet or dusty due to work processes. Seek specialist advice when choosing a floor for difficult conditions. If you cannot afford to replace a floor and it needs repairing regularly it might be worthwhile to do a cost benefit analysis. Sometimes it is quicker, easier and more economical to lay a new floor rather than constantly repairing an old surface. New floors can make the workplace a cheerier place and promote better housekeeping. No prudent enterprise owner wants to spend money without benefit, but it is easy to discount the effect of good work conditions on the morale of the workforce.

Obstructions and objects left lying around can easily go unnoticed and cause a trip. Try to keep all work areas tidy and if obstructions can’t be removed, warn people using signs or barriers. Cardboard should not be used to absorb spillages as this itself presents a tripping hazard. If you spill liquids it is more efficient to clean up the mess as soon as possible, but in some situations you will need to contain spills and large volumes of liquids with absorbent material. Train your cleaning team to use the most effective absorbent or efficient containment systems - quick action can eradicate problems that can turn into workplace tragedies or accidents.

So clean spills up immediately, and if a liquid is greasy, make sure a suitable cleaning agent is used. After cleaning the floor can be wet for some time - dry it where possible. Use appropriate barriers to tell people the floor is still wet and arrange alternative bypass routes. If cleaning is done once a day, it may be possible to do it last thing at night, so it is dry for the start of the next shift.

Footwear can also play an important part in preventing slips and trips. This is especially important where floors can’t be kept dry. Your footwear supplier should be able to advise on shoes/boots with slip-resistant soles. Employers need to provide footwear free issue, if it is necessary to protect the workers’ safety. The selection of protective footwear is one of the most important choices employers make, and discussing their styles and types will lead to employees both using and respecting the PPE they are issued with for a certain job function.

Work supervisors, duty holders and managers need to be circumspect and well informed before imposing certain types of foot protection and they should not always choose the cheapest footwear, even though the financial situation may be difficult.

Trailing cables can be the most lethal trip or slip hazard for many reasons. Always position power extensions and equipment to avoid cables crossing pedestrian routes, use cable covers to securely fix to surfaces, restrict access to certain areas where heavy duty cables are needed to prevent contact.

Consider using cordless tools to reduce tripping over extension cables. And remember that third parties and sub contractors will also need to be managed in the workplace - it’s no good having good working procedures, arrangement and trip reduction measures if visitors to the workplace compromise everyone’s safety.

Miscellaneous rubbish like plastic bags or surplus waste from production processes can form big piles and be left in corners, which can cause a physical and biological hazard. Keep all areas clear, remove rubbish and do not allow it to build up. Have a strategy that materials and rubbish are cleared every half day or work day, but not left until tomorrow, as leaving hazards overnight may merely postpone a dangerous accident until tomorrow.

Rugs or mats in the workplace need to be absorbent and kept clean. It is also necessary to supply absorbent mats to soak wetness from footwear in entrances, but ensure that mats are securely fixed and do not have curling edges, since anyone tripping and falling over the obstruction will have the right to sue for damages if they are severely injured.

When there are changes from wet to a dry floor surfaces, building owners or work area managers need to provide suitable drying media (carpets), appropriate footwear, warn of risks by using signs and locate clean and dry doormats where these changes are likely.

Try to avoid changes of floor levels in the workplace, office or leisure facility. If you cannot avoid changes of level you will need to improve lighting, add high visibility tread nosings (e.g. white/reflective edge to step) or illuminate the edge of the hazard with LEDs or other types of resilient light source.

If you have slopes for goods movements or disabled access, try to improve visibility, provide hand rails, use floor markings to ensure users can observe the hazards. Remember that external ramps need to be de-iced, have all moss or slippery plant materials removed and the surface should be regularly cleaned with non slip cleaning materials.

Smoke or steam obscuring the view in the workplace can hide slips?and trip hazards. Eliminate or control visual impairments by redirecting it away from risk areas, try to improve ventilation and warn of the likely hazards in industrial process areas.

In conclusion, trips slips and falls can happen in all areas of the workplace, offices, leisure facilities, warehouses, care homes, hospitals - and the extent of the injuries is generally the same for all injured parties. Enterprise owners, duty holders and work supervisors all have a vested human and commercial interest in keeping the workplace free from hazards. The government has introduced tough legislation that can affect the liberty of company directors and there are an increasing number of solicitors who are driving ‘no win, no fee’ damages claims, so there is every reason to keep the workplace and common parts free from hazards that might result in a trip, slip or fall.

We have set out below some of the formal regulatory arrangements and good practice that could reduce the likelihood of your work person sustaining major injuries and how you can protect your company from a fine or heavy claim for damages.

Assessment  of risk

Competent persons within your workforce need to be trained and appointed to carry out trip and fall risk assessments. Identified risks will be reduced to the lowest level reasonably practicable. The following factors will be considered during the assessment.

The individual

The age, fitness and dexterity of individuals should be considered, e.g. whether workers are able to lift their feet, rather than drag them when walking.

Along with physical ability, individuals’ awareness of the risks present and the control measures to be followed needs to be assessed. Other factors may include the suitability of clothing and footwear worn, eyesight health, traffic routes and the levels and consistency of lighting.

The Task or activity being performed

A risk assessment will consider whether employees need to carry objects that are awkward in shape or too many objects at once (which might affect balance), whether changes in floor levels increase the risk of falls, whether traffic routes are clear, and whether there are obstacles that must be avoided.

Other factors to be considered are whether liquids or slippery materials are present in the workplace that might cause slip hazards if spilled, or if trailing power leads or braided airlines from industrial equipment could cause further hazards.

The immediate working environment

Consideration by the safety team will be given to slip, trip and fall hazards created by the physical layout of the working areas, e.g. whether work equipment or plants obstructs traffic routes, or whether there is travel from outdoor to indoor areas which might lead to water being carried in on footwear, and whether matting or other means of drying the soles of footwear are provided at all access and egress points. Other risk factors will include the general condition of the roof (leakage) and floors, or whether regular building maintenance is being carried out effectively, the type of floor covering used (in regard to the work process), the materials used for cleaning and polishing the floor (which may affect the coefficient of friction between foot and floor) and the intensity and type of lighting provided in all areas and the arrangements for its maintenance. Safety signs may have to be displayed during cleaning operations or when equipment is used that can impact on building users, users of the common parts or casual visitors.

Duties of managers and supervisors

Managers or supervisors must ensure that:

• Slips, trip and fall assessments are carried out where relevant and that records are kept in a secure place and that they are available for auditing • Employees wear appropriate footwear, there are procedures to clear away materials and equipment not in use, no rushing with traffic routes and all actions and procedures should be properly supervised • Adequate information and training is provided to persons involved in activities or working in areas with the potential for slip, trip and fall accidents • Any injuries or incidents relating to slip, trips and falls are investigated, and that remedial action is taken and if necessary reported to the HSE using the RIDDOR protocols • Employees adhere to safe systems of work • Safety arrangements are in place for the control of slip, trip and fall risks that are regularly monitored and reviewed • Regular inspections of work areas and traffic routes are carried out, which cover slip, trip and fall risks: housekeeping, trailing leads, lighting levels and the condition of floors and the building fabric

Duties of employees

Employees must ensure that:

• They report to management (in confidence) any personal conditions that may increase the risk of slips, trips and falls • They comply with any instruction and training which is provided in relation to the control of slips, trips and falls • Their own health and safety is not put at risk from slips, trips and falls as they carry out work activities • They use equipment in a way which does not increase the risk of slips, trips and falls to either themselves or others, e.g. by trailing leads or through causing obstructions in traffic routes • Any problems relating to slips, trips and falls are reported to a responsible person • They adopt a cooperative approach to cleaning and clearing the workplace • They do not dump rubbish, surplus materials, components and tools in positions that are likely to put their fellow work colleagues at risk of slips trips and falls • They never leave the workplace without checking that the housekeeping arrangements have been complied with effectively

Author Details:

Neal Etchells Senior Practitioner Professional Health and Safety Consultants 63 65 Penge Road South Norwood London SE25 4EJ

Professional Health and Safety Consultants can help any size of enterprise improve their safety management of the workplace, reduce overall risk and improve safety training outcomes.

The principal partners have a strong and practical background in the construction, engineering, marine and transport industries.

We can write or refresh your safe working policies, undertake risk assessment programmes or carry out root and branch reviews and improvements to your risk management strategy.

Staying compliant is not easy for any size of company but we believe we can deliver good advice in a practical manner that will alleviate your underlying concerns.

Contact us now on 020 8778 7838

Published: 10th Nov 2010 in Health and Safety International

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