Last reviewed 25 October 2017
It’s not all about staying upright in winter’s ice and snow. Slips and trips are one of the largest causes of accidents, pain, lost time and injury in UK business, industrial and onsite workplaces. Jon Herbert advises on reducing the risks of slips, trips and falls.
A moment’s lost concentration, a simple distraction, trailing cables, unreported spillages, poor lighting, oil, grease, ice, moisture, badly designed or maintained surfaces — it takes surprisingly little for an employee, visitor, or employer to be injured by a slip or trip in the workplace.
There are many simple steps that can be taken to minimise this extremely common cause of accidents at work, which, quite apart from the all-important health and safety implications, can result in lost time and reduced productivity.
In its most recent figures from the year 2016/2017, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates using data from a Labour Force Survey that there were some 622,000 self-reported non-fatal injuries over 12 months in UK workplaces. Of these, 119,000 (nearly 20%) were attributed to slips, trips and falls. The statistics also show that on average eight days were lost per case.
Team of three
Three different roles together can help prevent slips and trips. These are the employer, the employee and the architect or designer.
Employers are responsible for putting into place and implementing effective management systems designed to prevent slips and trips. They also need to carry out regular risk assessments. A further duty on employers in particular is to be fully aware of relevant laws and regulations.
The law is quite specific about the requirements and responsibilities relating to slip and trip risks. The Health and Safety at Work, etc Act 1974 (HSWA) requires employers to ensure the health and safety of all employees (including employers) and those affected by their work as far as reasonably practical — balancing risk levels against control measures in terms of money, time and trouble.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (Regulation 3) builds on the HSWA and requires employers to assess slip and trip risks and take action when necessary. Finally, the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 (Regulation 12) specifies that floors must be suitable, in good condition and free from obstructions so that people can move around safely.
Employers are also advised to focus on workplace risks that really matter and could cause potential harm. Remedies can often be quick and simple, eg cleaning up spillages swiftly or keeping cupboard drawers closed.
The HSE website provides links to an online slips and trips hazard checklist, mapping tools and brief guides to prevention and risk management. Further information includes access to HSE’s free online Slips and Trips eLearning Package (STEP).
By their individual actions, employees can make a significant difference between someone being injured or safe. They also have duties under the law.
It is an employee’s responsibility to take reasonable care of themselves and others who might be affected by their actions. Complying with employer health and safety arrangements is also incumbent on employees.
The law also says that employees must inform their employers about any work situation they think could be dangerous and of any health and safety shortcomings. It also requires them to use work items correctly as trained and instructed.
When it comes to slips and trips specifically, employees should:
report near misses and accidents promptly
try to sort out any obvious slip or trip risks — or tell their employer
help to keep floors clean and dry
clear up spillages promptly
help to prevent floor contamination
don’t use trailing cables
ask for slopes and level changes to be marked
report poor lighting
follow safety advice.
Architects and designers
Because prevention must encompass all risks, architects and designers have a central role to play, often in close co-operation with employers and building owners, in designing-out endemic slip and trip risks before they even arise.
Installing suitable flooring in work areas that are either designed from scratch or refurbished is a key way to minimise the risk of slips on surfaces likely to be contaminated. To help, a specifiers’’ handbook produced by the Centre for Accessible Environments and published by RIBA Publishing is available. This offers practical guidance on internal flooring that is safe for users of all mobilities to navigate around the buildings they use.
More guidance for people designing, procuring and manging floors is given by CIRIA C652 Safer Surfaces to Walk: Reducing the Risk of Slipping.
Why slips and trips?
Slips normally have a number of common causes that are easy to remedy. The HSE makes available a “slip potential model” that analysis and examines the effects of contamination; cleaning; people; flooring; environment and footwear.
Most rips are caused by obstructions in walkways. The rest are the result of uneven surfaces. Preventing potential accidents is often straightforward and cost effective. Again, the HSE offers a simple three-sided model to prevent slips that brings together a combination of walkways, housekeeping, and design and maintenance.
HSE’s advice for walkways is to check them for suitability in the first instance. Are they in the right place, being used and available for use? Questions should also be asked about tasks that take place in walkways which could create additional risks for employees, eg making it more difficult to see where they are going clearly.
Simply having designated walkways is insufficient. They must be kept clear with no trailing wires or obstructions. It is important that employees and cleaners should have a “see it, sort it” attitude. Other questions to ask are whether the cleaning regime is effective and whether there are adequate bins and storage facilities.
Design and maintenance
Other fundamental questions to ask are as follows.
Is the flooring in question suitable for the particular work environment, fitted correctly and maintained properly?
Are the walkways provided wide enough for the traffic intended?
If there are stairs, are they suitable?
Are stair risers consistent and step edges highlighted where necessary?
Are handrails available?
Environmental factors that fall into this category are the quality of lighting when it is important that hazards can be seen clearly, plus the absence of distractions, such as bright lights or excessive stair trims, that can hamper progress.
One other factor to consider very seriously is the adequate and proper use of safety signage.
The HSE website offers links to a long list of dedicated research reports that may be useful.