Focus

Focus Archive

Slips, Trips and Falls

October 1996
Sheila Pantry, OBE

The single most common cause of non-fatal major injury to employees in the UK and no doubt elsewhere in the world is slips, trips and falls. Major injuries caused by slips, trips and falls in the UK amounted to 36% as a proportion of all major injuries. These cost employers over £300 million a year in lost production and other costs.

According to a recent report from the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions European Working Environment in Figures, slips, trips, and falls rank the second highest common cause of accidents for 8 European Countries.

Slips and trips are the most common cause of non-fatal major injuries in both manufacturing and service industries and account for over half of all reported injuries to members of the public.

Actions brought as a result of an injury can be extremely damaging to business, especially where the public are involved. Insurance covers only a small proportion of the costs. Anyone at work, but particularly employers, can help to reduce slips and trip hazards through good health and safety arrangements.

Effective solutions are often simple, cheap and lead to other benefits. To help reduce these accidents it is essential that all employers and employees together secure more competent and effective management of workplace health and safety.

Small firms, in particular, need to understand fully what is required in risk assessment. It is important that they neither under-estimate the requirements by superficial assessments of risks, nor over-estimate them and unnecessarily seek external help from consultants and others.

A good management system will help you to identify problem areas, decide what to do, act on decisions made and check that the steps taken have been effective. A good system should involve the following.

Planning
Identify key areas of risk and set goals for improvement. Carefully select equipment and work practices which prevent or contain slip and trip hazards. This helps to remove or minimise risks.
Organisation
Workers need to be involved and committed to reducing risks. Give people responsibilities (eg supervisors) to ensure that areas of the workplace are kept safe. Keep a record of who is responsible for which arrangements. Make these details clear to everyone.
Control
Check to ensure that working practices and processes are being carried out properly. Keep a record of cleaning, maintenance work etc. and encourage good health and safety.

To help everyone - employers, employees, contractors, consultants and others, the UK Health and Safety Executive has produced many pieces of guidance and advice. Some are simple, easy to understand leaflets of a few pages - other guidance can be much longer. However all will be found full text in SilverPlatter's OSH-CD, which is produced in conjunction with the HSE Information Services. The data is arranged so that the information seeker can readily find the series of documents or can ask for specific keywords or terms such as 'Slips, Trips and Falls' or risk assessment.

Many hundreds of references produced by competent authorities such as the Health and Safety Authority in Dublin, Ireland, or the International Labour Office in Geneva are listed in the CD-ROM OSH-ROM which contains four bibliographic databases:

  1. HSELINE from the UK HSE Information Services
  2. CISDOC from the International Labour Office in Geneva
  3. NIOSHTIC from the USA National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
  4. MHIDAS from the UK HSE and AEA Technology

OSH-ROM is updated quarterly and has been in existence for over 10 years and is arguably the world's premier source of Occupational Safety and Health information.

By having access to these validated and authoritative sources of information, you can begin to improve your workplace. Helping to cut down on slips, trips and falls could be a first major step - carrying out a risk assessment and implementing the improvements necessary.

A five step approach to risk assessment, and slip and trip risks should be among the risks examined.

Step 1
Look for slip and trip hazards around the workplace, such as uneven floors, training cables, areas that are sometimes slippery due to spillages (include outdoor areas).
Step 2
Decide who might be harmed and how. Who comes into the workplace? Are they at risk?
Step 3
Consider the risks. Are the precautions already taken enough to deal with the risks?
Step 4
Record your findings if you have five or more employees.
Step 5
Regularly review the assessment. If any significant changes take place, make sure that precautions are still adequate to deal with the risks.

Don't forget to consider employees who work away from the workplace. Look at the hazards and risks that they may come across so that proper training can be provided.

Get conditions right from the start, it will make dealing with slip and trip risks easier. Choose only suitable floor surfaces, ensure lighting levels are sufficient, properly plan pedestrian and traffic routes and avoid overcrowding.

Cleaning and maintenance

Train workers in the correct use of any safety and cleaning equipment provided.

Cleaning methods and equipment must be suitable for the type of surface being treated. You may need to get advice on the appropriate method of treatment, eg from the manufacturer or supplier. Take care not to create additional slip or trip hazards while cleaning and maintenance work is being done.

Carry out all necessary maintenance work (you may need to get outside help or guidance). Include inspection, testing, adjustment and cleaning at suitable intervals. Keep records so that the system can be checked.

Lighting should enable people to see obstructions, potentially slippery areas etc., so they can work safely. Replace, repair or clean lights before levels become too low for safe work.

Floors need to be checked for loose finishes, holes and cracks, worn rugs and mats etc. Try to keep work areas tidy and if obstructions can't be removed, worn people using signs or barriers.

Footwear can play an important part in preventing slips and trips. Employers need to provide footwear if it is necessary to protect the safety of workers.

There are many simple steps that can be taken to reduce risks.

So, armed with all this information, and before the next slip, trip or fall occurs in your workplace, take some action now and check out and improve your working environment now!

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