A slip or trip is the single most common cause of injury in the workplace, and numbers are increasing each year. In 2007 the HSE advised the cost to the employer was more than £512 million in lost production and other costs
by Sarah Faulkner
26 June 2008
A slip or trip is the single most common cause of injury in the workplace, and numbers are increasing each year. In 2007 the HSE advised the cost to the employer was more than £512 million in lost production and other costs.
The starting point for health and safety purposes is a risk assessment. This is a fundamental requirement. Within the food industry, for example, there are many potential slipping hazards, from the spillage of produce to greasy and uneven floors or pallets left in hazardous positions.
Once a 'slip and trip' risk has been identified, controls need to be put into place. Measures you should consider include non-slip flooring and appropriate lighting. Suitable footwear is also an issue: make sure that worn-out shoes or boots are discarded and replaced. Floors should be checked for obstructions or objects which could create a hazard, and any items put in their proper place.
Changes of level to the flooring should be highlighted and pedestrian and traffic routes must be properly planned to prevent overcrowding. Any defects discovered in the course of the risk assessment should be swiftly remedied.
Most slips happen when floors are contaminated with liquid, grease, dust, or dirt. With some floor tiles, even a small amount of contamination can present a hazard. The starting point is to try to prevent the contamination in the first place, but if this is not possible the right cleaning method is mandatory.
All those involved in the process of cleaning spillages should be aware of the reason for the type of clean and the frequency. Cleaning methods are dependent on the floor type. For example, damp mopping can remove dirt and spillages from hard floors that cannot be taken away by suction cleaning or dusting. Spot cleaning is a useful technique to clean up spills as they happen. It is wise to implement a 'clean as you go' policy and to communicate the systems in place to all members of staff. Written inspection and maintenance records should be kept, as well as time sheets showing the frequency of the cleaning operation.
You should ensure that you train employees on the reporting of floor defects or slippery areas which come to their attention.
If a problem is identified, the slipperiness of flooring can be accurately assessed using the pendulum coefficient of friction (COF) test. This should be undertaken by a suitably trained person who can properly interpret the results. In water-contaminated conditions a surface micro-roughness meter may be used.
Regulation 12 of the Workplace Health & Safety Regulations 1992 is frequently quoted in litigated cases. These regulations state that every floor in the "workplace shall be of a construction such that the floor or surface of the traffic route is suitable for the purpose for which it is used" and "shall have no hole or slope or be uneven or slippery". There is a defence to a claim if an employer can show that they have done everything so far as reasonably practicable to keep floors clear of obstructions or hazards.
In the recent Court of Appeal case Susan Ellis v Bristol City Council 2007, the claimant was injured when she slipped in urine on the floor of a nursing home. The Court of Appeal held that where there were frequent occurrences of spillage then the floor was not suitable for the purpose for which it was being used. They found an absolute duty under the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 and Ellis succeeded with her claim.
In the case of Merseyside Fire & Civil Defence Authority v Gavin Fraser Bassie 2005, a fireman slipped on an invisible layer of dust while he was undertaking fitness training in the appliance room. The fireman was wearing suitable footwear. The defendants cleaned the floor weekly and it had been inspected on the day of the accident but there was nothing obvious to see. However, the judge concluded that the fine layer of dust caused the fall and that it was reasonably practicable to remove the dust by damp mopping prior to the fitness training. The Court of Appeal agreed and the appeal was dismissed.
To avoid becoming one of these statistics, you need to ensure that you have proper preventative measures in place. If a slipping accident happens once or more and you are on notice of the problem, don't let it become a frequent occurrence.
Sarah Faulkner is a solicitor in the workplace health and safety team at law firm Weightmans
Quick tips to avoid slips
Do a risk assessment
Train staff on the correct methods ofcleaning and inspection
Ensure that all employees are aware of the safe operative procedures and know where items are to be correctly stored
Make sure that appropriate footwear is worn or provided and is regularly checked and periodically replaced
Use hazard warning signs
When cleaning a spillage, ensure that there are dry areas to enable safe access
Ensure that you have a proactive - rather than reactive - system in place