Slips, trips and falls are among the most common health and safety issues in the workplace and yet, they are also among the most easily preventable. Here, we take a quick look at the issues and what measures you can take as an employer.
Responsibilities of an Employer
As an employer, the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 requires you to ensure the health and safety of all your employees and anyone else affected by your work so far as is reasonably practicable. For slips and trips, this is further defined by the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, and the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992, which specify that you must assess and address risks and that you must maintain safe access and egress to and from your premises.
The phrase “so far as reasonably practicable” means that you can balance the level of risk against the cost, time and effort to implement measures needed to remove or reduce the risk. All reasonable measures should still be put in place, but once you have done that you are not required to address any residual risk if the measures required to address it would be vastly disproportionate in cost, time and effort to their effect on the level of risk.
Responsibilities of an Employee
Employees also have a general duty to take care of their own health and safety and that of others who may be affected by their actions. This includes requirements to comply with measures that their employer puts in place for managing slip and trip risks and also to adhere to such rules that may include suitable footwear, reporting spillages without delay and sticking to designated walkways.
Areas to Consider
It is not possible to describe all the specific slip and trip hazards that might be found in a business due to the wide variety of industries that fall under health and safety law. However, the following common areas should be taken into consideration when implementing measures against slip and trip hazards.
Flooring can be the source of several different slip and trip hazards, and the type of flooring will affect the type of potential hazard. Carpet is more prone to causing trip hazards such as through loose ends of carpet panels whilst hard floors are more likely to have slip hazards present due to surface fluids or polish. You should consider the different types of flooring present in your workplace when conducting your risk assessments as they will each have their own inherent hazards. Changing the flooring is not always reasonably practicable, so you will often have to consider ways of controlling and monitoring the hazard.
In some environments it may be necessary to provide specialist footwear to your employees, such as steel-capped boots. If you do provide footwear, you will need to assess the risks to ensure that the footwear is capable of protecting against that hazard and it is important to incorporate slip and trip provisions into that assessment. If you are already providing protective footwear for one hazard, that footwear should incorporate protection against all the hazards known to exist in your workplace.
The environment and weather conditions should also be factored into your assessment. Standing water or other liquids are a common source of slip hazards, particularly rainwater, although they can be addressed with prompt reporting and some attentive housekeeping. What is less obvious is that these slip hazards can be hidden by lighting conditions, whether the absence of light or too much light (especially if the floor reflects that light easily), and it is not always possible to rely on your employees and visitors spotting the hazard and reporting it. All too often a water-based hazard is only identified by employees and reported after it has caused an accident.
The last common area to consider is housekeeping. All workplaces will have some form of slip or trip hazard that can be created by poor housekeeping, whether it is small pieces of equipment or product on a workshop floor or a trailing computer cable in an office. Poor housekeeping is one of the most common sources of slip and trip hazards, but with the right mentality and support it can also be one of the most easily managed. If you know that housekeeping issues are likely to appear anywhere in your workplace, getting your employees to address those hazards when they see them can be key to effectively managing the hazards. A “leave it to the cleaners” attitude is not constructive and leads to hazards being left in place. If you work with hazardous substances then the procedure may have to be different – employees may instead be expected to address the hazard by notifying a specialist cleaning team immediately. The important point to remember is that housekeeping hazards can often be rectified as easily as they can be created.
In conclusion, the common slip and trip hazards can be controlled or eliminated through careful assessments of the risks and a well thought out system of risk management. Dealing with the common hazards will allow you to apply the same principles of risk assessment and risk control to more complex slip and trip hazards specific to your business. Though the hazards may change, the principles of control stay the same.