Last reviewed 29 September 2020

Risk assessment is central to any approach aimed at protecting people from the risk of slips, trips and falls, explains Andrew Christodoulou.

Slips, trips and falls continue to be major players in the accident statistics released by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). According to its latest figures (2014–2019), falls accounted for 25% of workplace fatal accidents. In 2018/19, falls and slips and trips accounted for a third (29%) of employee injuries.

They made up 44% of all reported major/specified injuries and almost 3 in 10 (29%) over-7-day injuries to employees (RIDDOR). An estimated 1.9 million working days were lost owing to handling injuries and slips and trips (Labour Force Survey).

Consequently, the prevention of slips, trips and falls must be a major priority for all organisations, and risk assessment is central to any approach aimed at protecting people from the risk of slips, trips and falls.

In order to be able to protect people effectively, it is important to understand the specific legal requirements aimed at preventing slips, trips and falls, since these legal requirements detail the standard of protection required. It is also important to gain an understanding of how slips, trips and falls occur and using these causative factors is an important aid to prevention.

The legal requirements

Apart from the general requirements of the Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 (HSWA) and those contained in the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSWR), there are specific requirements on slips, trips and falls in supporting regulations. These include the Workplace (Health and Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 and the Work at Height Regulations 2005.

Workplace (Health and Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992

Regulation 12 deals with the condition of floors and routes and requires action to prevent slips, trips and falls.

“So far as is reasonably practicable, every floor in a workplace and the surface of every traffic route in a workplace shall be kept free from obstructions and from any article or substance which may cause a person to slip, trip or fall.”

It is important to note that the requirement is qualified by the words “so far as is reasonably practicable” which limits the level and extent of preventive action and means that the cost of remedial action as well as the risks involved must be taken into account.

The accompanying ACOP gives some advice on the issue: “The surfaces of floors and traffic routes should be free from any hole, slope, or uneven or slippery surface which is likely to cause:

  • a person to slip, trip or fall

  • a person to drop or lose control of anything being lifted or carried

  • instability or loss of control of vehicles and/or their loads.

Damaged surfaces that may cause a person to trip or fall should be made good and conspicuously marked or protected until this can be done. Temporary holes should be adequately guarded. Take account of people with disabilities. Surfaces with small holes (for example, metal gratings) are acceptable provided they are not likely to be a hazard.”

Regulations 13(1–5) of the Workplace Regulations were modified by the Work at Height Regulations 2005 but regulation 13(5) remains and requires action to be taken to be prevent falls into tanks and pits, etc which may contain dangerous, eg corrosive substances. Such pits and tanks must be securely covered.

The Work at Height Regulations 2005

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 were introduced specifically to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries from falling. They operate in addition to the general requirements of the HSWA and the duty to provide risk assessments in the MHSWR.

It is important to note that the Work at Height Regulations do not specify a minimum height at which the regulations apply.

In particular, the Work at Height Regulations 2005 introduced a hierarchy of control measures to be used when considering working at height.

  • Avoid work at height where reasonably practicable

  • Use work equipment (eg working platforms with guard rails) to prevent falls where working at height cannot be avoided.

  • Where the risk of a fall cannot be eliminated then other measures should be used to minimise the distance and consequences of a fall, should one occur. This may involve, for example, the use of harnesses or safety nets or airbags.

The regulations also give requirements relating to training and instruction as well as the inspection of equipment used.

Slips, trips and falls — causes and prevention

The way in which slips and trips occur and the way to prevent them are important considerations during any risk assessment exercise. A useful model is that promoted on the HSE’s website, namely the slip potential model and the trip potential triangle.

The slip potential model

This model considers that there are a number of particular factors which contribute to slip accidents and that an understanding of these factors can be used to prevent such accidents from happening. The factors are as follows.

People: The way people behave dramatically affects the chance of slip accidents, and an understanding of the role of human factors in accident causation is important. For example, people rushing or looking at their mobile phone while walking can cause trip accidents. Making people aware of how trip accidents occur and their own role will help prevent slip accidents. Any slip accident prevention strategy should look at changing people’s attitudes and behaviour. For example, people dealing with a spillage themselves rather than leaving it for someone else.

Cleaning: Effective cleaning is an important way of preventing slip accidents. Cleaning regimes often introduce additional slip hazards so these need to be carefully designed and planned. Staff involved in cleaning need to be properly trained. There should be restricted access to wet floors and careful consideration should be given to cleaning methods. For example, dry methods of cleaning, considered use of detergents, and the use of warning signs.

Flooring: Flooring needs to be suitable for its intended use in a workplace. Where a floor is likely to be contaminated on a regular basis then its suitability is a key factor to consider. Such flooring needs to be properly designed for purpose and slip resistance of flooring needs to be assessed. The correct specification of flooring needs to be made with reference as necessary to the relevant British and European Standards. The CIRIA publication Safer Surfaces to Walk On is a helpful reference.

Footwear: As with any type of PPE, any footwear worn in the workplace must be properly selected. The use of “non-slip” footwear will be important for some workplaces. Discussions with suppliers need to take place to ensure that the selected footwear is suitable. Data and tests on slip resistance should be requested and it may be possible to trial different types of footwear. Workplace procedures and rules may have to specify the type of footwear to be worn for general use and some types of footwear, eg high heels, may be prohibited.

Contamination: People rarely slip on a clean, dry floor so any risk assessment needs to consider the potential for contamination of floors and to take appropriate action. For example, dealing with spillages and leakages, and rethinking at working practices can help to prevent contamination of floors.

Environment: Environmental issues can increase the risk of, or prevent slips and trips, so it is important to take them into consideration. For example:

  • too much light on a shiny floor can cause glare and stop people from seeing hazards on the floor and stairs

  • too little light will also prevent people from seeing hazards on the floor and stairs

  • unfamiliar and loud noises may be distracting

  • if rainwater gets onto a smooth surface inside or outside of a building, it may create a slip hazard. Good entrance design (eg canopies) can help

  • cold weather can cause frost and ice to form, which may create slippery surfaces

  • condensation may make a smooth floor slippery.

The HSE’s Health and Safety Laboratory (HSL) offers “GRIP”, a footwear rating scheme designed to prevent slip accidents. Further information can be found at www.hsl.gov.uk.

The trip potential triangle

This model considers that there are three particular issues which contribute to trip accidents. These are walkways, housekeeping and design and maintenance.

  1. Walkways Check for suitable walkways. Are they in the right place, are they being used, are they available for use? What tasks are taking place on the walkway — is the task preventing the employee from seeing where he or she is going, for example?

  2. Housekeeping Walkways must be kept clear, there must be no trailing wires and no obstructions. Employees and cleaners need to be encouraged to ensure these and other work areas are kept clear. Is the cleaning regime effective? Are there enough bins, storage facilities, etc?

  3. Design and maintenance Is the floor suitable for the environment, fitted correctly and properly maintained? Are the walkways wide enough and level? Are stairs suitable, are risers consistent, are nosings highlighted where necessary, are usable handrails available? Environmental factors also fall into this category — is the lighting good enough for employees to see hazards, what about distractions that might prevent them from seeing where they are going?

A similar approach can be used during the risk assessment process to consider the potential causes of falls from height and how to prevent them.

Case studies

As reported by the HSE, a 16-year-old girl was employed at a fast food outlet to cook fries at a frying range. She slipped on water leaking from an ice-making machine and instinctively put out her hand to break her fall. Unfortunately, her hand went into the deep fat fryer containing oil at a temperature of 360°F and she sustained severe burns to her left hand and forearm. The employer was prosecuted and fined £15,000.

Following the accident, the company carried out a complete review of its management of wet or contaminated floors.

  • slip control was given priority over serving customers

  • systems were put in place to ensure maintenance of faulty equipment

  • managers were identified as having responsibility to ensure slips procedures were implemented and followed

  • employees empowered to deal with slips as a priority and given backing by company

  • extra training on slips procedures was given to all staff.

Conclusions

Slips, trips and falls are a major cause of death and injury in workplaces all over the UK. In many cases, it is quite simple to take action to prevent these accidents and often is not expensive to implement the necessary remedial action. Only through a thorough risk assessment exercise will the causes and methods of prevention be identified.