Certain universal truths in the safety world remain; one of which is that slips and trips tend to be one of the largest causes of accidents in the modern workplace leading to lost time and in some cases broken bones or worse.
Whilst some injuries by their very nature will be more prone to slips and trips – catering, construction, agriculture – slips and trips can occur in the most benign working environments if adequate care is not taken to prevent them.
The simple truth is modern safety has a common methodology no matter what the nature of the hazards involved are; if we follow that path then we can most effectively manage the risks from slips and trips.
Step 1: Identify the Hazards and Undertake Risk Assessments
Undertaking risk assessments on your workplace and the activities you undertake is the key step. A risk assessment merely looks at the possibility of harm occurring; in this case from slips and trips; and attempts to give the danger a value. This in turn allows you to identify where you can improve safety and help prevent accidents going forward.
The hazard here is slips and trips; they can be caused by:
- Poor working environments – inadequate lighting, uneven working surfaces, mud in outdoor environments, steps/stairs, poor flooring, badly positioned cables, poor housekeeping etc.
- The people involved – unlikely to be a major issue in most workplaces – however you should consider visitors or customers and remember they have not the training your staff may have – plus especially in retail environments it may include more vulnerable groups. Pregnant staff should also be considered – later stages of pregnancy can leave a person more vulnerable to slips and trips and the consequences can be more severe.
- The Work – the more people carry loads, especially large or bulky loads that obscure their vision; the more likely slips and trips are. Equally distracted people don’t pay attention to their surroundings so poor housekeeping combined with a busy workplace can lead to many accidents.
Examine the workplace properly and make sure that whilst carrying out risk assessments you fully consider the risks from slips and trips taking into account the factors above. Make sure you look at what’s done correctly – not just the areas of concern and record those risk assessments.
This should allow you to write down existing controls; eg: adequate storage, level flooring, well lit workplaces, good levels of housekeeping – the controls may also include practices such as supervisor safety walk rounds.
It is useful to look at past accidents to see where most accidents occur – also remember a trip in a carpeted corridor is generally less severe than a slip near a staircase or workshop (equipment, supplies etc. can be sharp and dangerous to fall into).
Step 2: Identify Improvements:
Within the risk assessment process it’s essential you identify ways of reducing accidents with regards to slips and trips – now the possible list is endless but typical examples may include:
- More or better storage
- Staff training and awareness
- Better Supervision
- Frequent safety inspections
- More cleaning equipment
Electric cables or air hoses are one of the most common causes of slips and trips in the workplace.
Cables and hoses should never cross walkways or areas of people movements. This can be prevented by:
- Ensuring that all work areas have adequate power points to reduce the need for extension leads and trailing cables
- In industrial settings look at “pods” that drop down to the work area keeping power and air supplies away from the floor so far as practical
- Better spill prevention – some processes and work activities have equipment designed to reduce spills in the workplace.
- Good procedures
- Access to cleaning equipment, warning signs
- Suitable floors if spills cannot be eliminated – eg: kitchens
- Can the manual handling be removed or replaced by equipment – especially over uneven surfaces or where things need to be carried up stairs or ladders.
Worn and frayed carpets, poorly maintained floors or unsuitable surfaces (high polish surfaces near entrances where rain can lead to slips and trips) are common causes of accidents – the more people, the greater the age range, the greater exposure of the public all affect the risks here.
Industrial mesh floors are very good at preventing slips – providing you’re wearing industrial footwear – they can be highly hazardous to heels. Equally whilst walkways can be built around construction sites there will always be wet and muddy areas – suitable safety boots help reduce the number and severity of accidents. Remember boots with ankle support not only help reduce slips but also minimise the risk of ankle injuries.
Step 3: Undertake Improvements:
Ensure you make the physical improvements in terms of better lighting, new carpet, floor repairs and changes to work activities where possible in light of your risk assessments.
Ensure that where greater staff training will help reduce the risks through awareness or where supervisors should be more proactive make sure the training or awareness raising is undertaken and recorded.
Step 4: Inspections:
Housekeeping and general repair of the workplace should be checked regularly. This should involve frequent walk rounds by managers and supervisors of their area – this should be done on an on-going basis throughout the working day.
In addition formal inspections should be undertaken weekly – these should be recorded.
Step 5: Review Accident Records:
Look at where issues remain and re assess those areas – are the controls working, is the issue one where new controls are required or are the accidents occurring because housekeeping and supervision remain poor?
Accident records should show not just broad trends but repeated slips and trips in an area will tell you where to re assess and look again at the safety measures in place.