Slips and falls are one of the most common causes of non-fatal major injuries, accounting for over half of all reported accidents to members of the public. The significance of slips and trips has been emphasised since the HSE made it one of the “priority areas” in the Revitalising Health and Safety Programme.
Anyone who controls premises regularly visited by members of the public needs to manage the slipping risk and property owners have responsibilities to keep common parts of residential accommodation free from the risk of slipping.
Slips and trips can result in serious injuries and may lead to large compensation awards. Effective solutions are often simple, cheap and easy to implement.
Those in control of premises have duties under the Occupiers Liability Act 1984. This states (s2) that the occupier has a “common law duty of care” and then goes on to define that as: “A duty to take such care as in the circumstances of the case is reasonable to see that the visitor will be reasonably safe in using the premises for the purposes for which he is invited or permitted by the occupier to be there.”
This clearly extends to the control of slips and trip hazards.
What Causes People To Slip or Trip?
Both slips and trips result from some unintended or unexpected change in the contact between the feet and the ground or walking surface.
Research by the HSE has established that all of the following can contribute to a slip or trip:
- People and Behaviours
Not all of these are able to be controlled or influenced. Many of those in control of property will not have the opportunity to specify what flooring is installed but can try to minimise contamination and ensure that cleaning procedures are sufficient and suitably frequent to reduce the risk of slipping.
This shows that good housekeeping, the quality and condition of the surfaces and an appropriate pace of walking are critical for preventing fall accidents. Some of these are not under the control of a property owner; however, simple strategies can be put in place to cope with other aspects.
A risk assessment should be undertaken to identify possible slip and trip hazards. The HSE’s Slip Assessment tool provides invaluable guidance when carrying out an assessment. The following questions should help determine if there is a hazard:
- Is the floor surface in good condition?
- Are floors likely to become wet and slippery?
- Can floor conditions change quickly? E.g. because of a build up of waste
- Do people use unlit or poorly lit paths or yard areas?
- Are tripping hazards, such as trailing cables, routed away form walkways or covered/protected in some way?
- Are spillages cleaned up as soon as possible?
- Are cleaning rotas organised to avoid times when a lot of people may be around?
- Are cleaning substances chosen to reduce risk of slippery surfaces?
The assessment itself should:
- Look for slip and trip hazards
- Decide who might be harmed and how
- Consider the risks
- Ascertain if there are suitable controls in place
- If not, determine new or improved controls
- Implement controls
- Record findings
- Be reviewed on a regular basis
For new surfaces:
- Specify non slip surfaces
- Ensure design is free from trip hazards
For existing surfaces:
- Ensure they are kept in good order
- Promptly repair damage
- Secure coverings such as mats, rugs and carpets
- Establish suitable and sufficient cleaning regime
The slip resistance of flooring can be significantly reduced by spillages or ingress of water e.g. rain, ice or snow. Correct cleaning at frequent intervals is essential.
In many environments, contamination of the flooring can lead to a long term reduction in quality and increase the risk of slipping specifically. The treading in of fat, oil or simple dirt and dust can reduce the slip resistance of the floor surface leading to an increased risk.
Suitable cleaning procedures should be established. Routine cleaning may deal with the day to day spillages etc but “deep cleaning”, using strong cleaning agents and mechanical equipment, may be required at suitable intervals.
The selection and use of proper footwear can also prove critical but this is not under the control of a property owner.
People and Behaviours
This aspect is not under the control of a property owner but where possible access routes should be planned to avoid areas where slips or trips are expected.
Good housekeeping is the first and most important method of preventing falls due to slips and trips. It includes:
- Cleaning all major spills as soon as possible
- Marking spills and wet areas
- Mopping spills or sweeping debris from floors
- Removing obstacles from walking routes
- Always keeping walking routes free from clutter
- Covering cables that cross walking routes
- Promptly replacing broken/defective light bulbs and faulty switches
Without good housekeeping practices, any other preventative measures such as the installation of sophisticated flooring, will never be fully effective.
The Magic “Inch”
Property owners often ask about the extent to which they might be held liable for an accident that results from a trip on an uneven surface. What is the “height” below which a change in level, hole or depression will not render them liable?
The answer is that there is no “safe” limit’ no hard and fast rule. Every claim for compensation will be decided on its own merits and the particular circumstances that relate to the accident. For example, a flooring defect of one inch may not generate liability if it occurred just prior to the accident and there was no possibility of the property owner detecting it and taking corrective action in time to prevent the fall. However, a small tripping hazard of lesser size may result in a liability if it had been present for an extended period, if its existence was known and it was in a location where people walked regularly.
Key Action Steps
If you have a responsibility for premises:
- Ensure that new flooring surfaces are installed so that they are, as far as is practicable, free from slipping and tripping hazards
- Conduct routine inspections to ensure all surfaces are from slip and trip hazards
- Ensure that routine maintenance is carried out to remedy defects
- Implement a sound housekeeping programme
- Set up a strategy to ensure that any contamination and spillages are reported and cleaned up as soon as possible
- Ensure that cleaning procedures are suitable for dealing with contamination and spillages
- Establish cleaning rotas and routines that are sufficiently frequent to deal with all expected problems