Every year, nearly 11,000 people suffer injury as a result of a slip or trip at work. Over the last ten years, the number of slip-related accidents has remained almost the same. So what is causing these accidents at work, and how can we prevent them.
The Causes of Workplace Slips, Trips and Falls
Common causes of people slipping, tripping or falling at work can be categorised as follows:
- Contamination and obstacles
Good footwear can prevent many slip-type accidents. Of course, it really depends on the type of work that is being carried out, but generally, footwear at work should be suitable for the working environment. For example, footwear used in an office should have flat soles, with a low heel and the sole should be made from soft rubber, which will provide reasonable grip.
In work areas where the floor cannot be kept dry, for example in food preparation areas or process areas where constant washing is being carried out, non-slip soles should be used. In factory locations, where there is a risk of uneven floors, the footwear may need deep treads to prevent slipping.
When people are working outside, perhaps involved with construction-type activities, additional protection may be required. For example, toecaps may need to be strong enough to protect against falling objects.
Poor quality floors and stairs are responsible for many accidents at work. Carpets that have become worn or frayed can cause significant risk of a person tripping, especially on stairs. It is important that regular checks are made of floors and stairs.
Sudden changes in level should always have high visibility markings on steps or raised areas. Stairs should have suitable handrails and people should always be encouraged to hold the handrail at all times when ascending or descending. As far as possible, stairs should always be of similar height and similar width. Many serious accidents have occurred on stairs that are ‘non standard’ design.
A health service worker was recently injured when she tripped over a hole that had been dug up for repairs. The worker suffered serious injuries that kept her off work for several months. The hospital was fined by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and ordered to pay over £7000.
Contamination and Obstacles
Most floors only become slippery after something has been spilled onto them. It is therefore really important to clean up any mess right away, or at least put up barriers to prevent people walking over contaminated surfaces.
A carpet company was fined £8000 after one of their managers suffered a fractured wrist following a slip on some glue that had been left lying on the floor.
Cleaning operations can contribute to slips and trips at work. If at all possible, floors should be washed and cleaned when no other employees are in the area. However, this is not always practical. If floor cleaning has to be carried out during normal working times, special signs should be posted near to the area so that people can be made aware of any hazards that may be present.
Cones and barriers should be used to prevent people walking over wet floors, especially if they are on well-used routes.
Under no circumstances should cardboard or any other disposable surface be placed over wet floors that are awaiting to be cleaned. A fast food company was fined £15000 after an employee slipped on a temporary cover (an ice machine had been leaking and the manager decided to place cardboard over the leak until the shop was less busy with customers). The girl reached out to prevent her falling but her arm came in contact with hot fat. She suffered serious burns to her arm.
A positive attitude towards health and safety can prevent most slips, trips and falls. A ‘see it, sort it’ attitude is always best. The opposite of this is an attitude whereby people leave things they see. Just because one person sees something and is able to avoid an accident, doesn’t mean that everyone else will be able to do the same.
Often, if there is a slip-type hazard, consulting with the workforce is the best thing that can be done. Ask staff what the problem is and how they think it should be fixed. Usually, most staff will come up with simple but effective solutions to problems.
Too much or too little light can have a significant impact slips and trips. It is essential that changes in level are properly lit and it is also important to avoid glare or unnecessary reflection on surfaces that are prone to be slippery.
By taking simple precautions, the risk of personal injury from a slip, trip or fall at work can be greatly reduced.