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Balancing On A Banana Skin

Published: 10th Jun 2011 in OSA Magazine

Statistics show that slips, trips and falls are still the most common cause of injuries globally in the workplace.

And that they relate to more than a third of all major injuries reported makes you wonder why, when so much is written about it, do we have to ask ourselves

“What have we really done to eliminate it?” We must all look a little deeper into what is often a more deeply rooted - and never really reported or tackled - issue.

What is the source of the problem?

Reasons for slips, trips and falls

A recent survey indicated there was a direct correlation between organisation size and employee risk-taking behaviour, such as jumping to the ground from low to mid-height without using ladders or steps. Add to this the likelihood that the ladders weren’t regularly checked or inspected by their supervisors, this may be an underlying cause of slip, trip and fall-related accidents.

Slip and trip accidents often happened for a number of reasons but, all too frequently, the survey found that those interviewed had jumped to conclusions about how and why they happened rather than really looking for the true cause. Alternatively, they decided that the incident was just ‘one of those things’ and could do nothing about it.

Most common causes

• Uneven floor surface or unsuitable floor coverings (raised mats or carpeting)

• Contamination on the floor (normally due to poor housekeeping)

• Obstructed walkways or aisles (e.g. obstacles on the floor such as trailing cables)

• Cleaning of the floors (wet floors and no signs on display)

• Damaged flooring (cracked pavement or sidewalks)

• Changes in levels (often only very small) or missing handrails/inappropriate footwear

• Environmental factors, such as poor lighting or items stored temporally on the stairs
• Improperly secured ladders or scaffolding, (in offices its still the swivel chair)

Insurance and no win, no fee viewpoint

• 33% - 50% of all reported major injuries were slip, trip and fall related

• Slips and trips should be a priority area in most organisations but only 18% of organisations where found to have effective programmes in place

• Fewer than one in 10 staff felt that good practice was being implemented in their workplace

• You can then understand why a ‘no win, no fee merchant’ will take the case - it’s a good bet they will win

Legal aspect

Enforcement action will always be considered where proactive inspection or accident investigation shows that slip, trip and fall risks are not being sensibly managed - there is nothing new in this.

• Ensure you have taken practical steps to manage risks, not just tick box bureaucratic back covering

• Ensure your risk assessment is part of the planning process - keep it fit for purpose and act on it

• Health and safety inspectors won’t be fooled by fancy titles or gimmicks - if it sounds ridiculous they will check it out

Health and safety inspectors always focus on incidents where there is a significant risk by using the same approach. You can decide whether
there is a significant risk by using the following checklist:

• Look at the work in progress and identify where potential risks are/could be present at the Project stage in discussion with your staff

• Spot leaking plant or machinery, fluids accumulating on floors, a build-up of contamination on the floor with no visible sign of containment or clean-up, e.g. brought in on footwear in
wet weather

• Notice the use of ad hoc measures to control leaks, such as corrugated cardboard being put down, or warning signs left in place for extended periods

• Consider the age and construction of your buildings, whether there is evidence of leaking roofs, walkways exposed to the elements and potential for water or mud to be brought into the workroom on wet clothing, shoes or vehicles

• Check for cluttered walkways, build-up of waste materials, general untidiness, impeded pedestrian access, trailing cables

• Talk to staff to identify ‘difficult jobs’, listen out for incidences of falls not leading to injury (‘near misses’) and examine records for evidence of slip and trip problems - in sickness absence or the accident book, for example

In a civil case

• To succeed in a claim for personal injury the employee must prove on the balance of probabilities that the employer has breached their duty of care to their employee

• The employee must also establish on the balance of probabilities that their injuries have been caused or materially contributed to by the employer’s breach of duty

• While in theory the burden of proof is on the employee, if they submit a reasonable argument, the burden can shift to the employer to disprove the claimant’s case

The challenge then becomes...

Once a court makes a finding that there was a substance/trip hazard on the floor such as to make the surface ‘slippery or a trip hazard’, the burden shifts from the claimant to the defendant to show that they have done all that is ‘reasonably practicable’ to ensure that the floor surface is kept free of obstructions, and from any article or substance which may cause a person to slip, trip or fall. Can you demonstrate ‘Sensible Risk Management’?

What will be required in defending against slips, trips and falls?

• A Root Cause investigation - what was the real cause?

• Photos taken from all angles help - gather good evidence before things are changed around

• Witnesses statement - negative and positive this is often overlooked or not considered

• Cleaning process rota, inspection regime - how many have you seen already filled in prior accident?

• Control of contractors - often known to alter the project plan to suit a financial constraint

• Disciplinary action - where do you set your boundaries with a fraudulent claim?

Sensible risk management is about:

• Ensuring that workers and the public are properly protected

• Providing overall benefit to society by balancing benefits and risks, with a focus on reducing real risks - both those which arise more often and those with serious consequences

• Enabling innovation and learning

• Ensuring that those who create risks manage them responsibly and understand that failure to manage real risks responsibly is likely to lead to robust action

• Enabling individuals to understand that as well as the right to protection, they also have to exercise responsibility

Sensible risk management is not about:

• Creating a totally risk free society

• Generating useless paperwork mountains

• Scaring people by exaggerating or publicising trivial risks

• Stopping important recreational and learning activities for individuals where the risks are managed

Some key areas to address

• Although slips, trips and falls may be the most common cause of accidents, they can be controlled and managed by appropriate work practices and (generally) with very little expenditure and the actions relevant to a particular property should be determined by the risk assessment

Regular walk rounds of the premises can identify issues such as:

• Signage ignored - either not used or the poster has faded and become part of the faded background

• Matting was put down many years ago, but no one has ever picked it up and cleaned it

• Inappropriate footwear

• Adverse weather conditions - consider effects of different seasons at the Risk Assessment stage

• Communication to all staff/contractors – toolbox talks are a good way to record a refresher session

• Regular inspection regimes and proof - your Action Plan is central to your defence

• Fraudulent claims - measure your results to establish a benchmark

• It is important to respond effectively - consistency in your actions is key

• Inappropriately routed or protected trailing wires - contractor/maintenance activities

• Water or other fluids from leaking roofs or pipe work, especially in temporary buildings

• Spillages - no one taking ownership of the cause, why or how it really happened

• General accumulation of surplus stock and other obstructions - normally stored in front of the fire door

• Lighting - if many light bulbs go out, ask yourself why

Floor design

• The floor should be suitable for its intended use and environment and for the type of work activity that may take place on it

• Aisles and passageways should be sufficiently wide for easy movement and should be kept clear at all times

• Temporary electrical cords that cross aisles should be taped or anchored to the floor

• If a floor is situated in places where it cannot be kept dry, then people should still be able to walk on it without fear of a slip

• Changes of levels are best to be avoided; if you can’t, improve lighting, add high visible tread nosings (e.g. reflective edge to step)

• Slopes are often an area of contention - review the pitch of the slope and improve visibility, provide hand rails, use floor markings

Floor cleaning

• Floor cleaning can make the floor slippery during cleaning as a result of the materials used in cleaning

• The floor must be cleaned correctly to ensure that it does not become slippery or keeps its slip resistance properties (if a non slip floor)

• Although it is often not possible, normal cleaning activities should be carried out when the premises are unoccupied (or last thing at night)

• Appropriate barriers (such as yellow ‘A’ frames) should be provided to warn people that the floor is still wet

• Appropriate cleaning techniques should be introduced, such as using a dry mop/squeegee to reduce floor drying time

• In some cases, it would be appropriate to arrange alternative bypass routes

• Consideration should be given to the tripping risks created by trailing vacuum cleaner cables

Maintenance of floor

• The floors and floor coverings (carpets or tiles) must be maintained in good condition in order to ensure that trip hazards are not present and that they do not develop

• Holes in the floor should be filled in and carpets and other floor coverings should be secured into place

• Ensure that mats do not slip and slide on the floor surface

• Ensure that mats and carpets do not turn up at the edges to create tripping hazards

• Re-lay or stretch carpets that bulge or have become bunched to prevent tripping hazards

Awareness of changes in elevation

• Where reasonably practicable, ramps, raised platforms and other changes of level should be avoided

• Where they cannot be avoided, they should be highlighted, such as by suitable warning notices, signs, use of colour or other highlighting techniques

Steps and stairs

• Steps and stairs should be well lit and suitably designed for their intended use and environment

• They should be well lit and provided with robust handrails, ideally on each side

• Consider the height and width steps

• The risers should be consistent and the nosing on the steps and stairs should be clearly marked in colours that contrast with the rest of the steps

Housekeeping and active monitoring

• Use prudent housekeeping procedures such as cleaning only one side of a passageway at a time, and provide good lighting for all halls and stairwells, to help reduce accidents

• Keep floors clean and dry - in addition to being a slip hazard, continually wet surfaces promote the growth of mould, fungi and bacteria that can cause infections

• Even if walkways are suitable and satisfactory, they need to be maintained in this condition

• Further to this, good standards of housekeeping need to be maintained

• Regular, active monitoring of walkways is essential to prevent issues from developing

• Keep areas clear, remove rubbish and do not allow it to build up

Trailing cables

• Trailing cables should be avoided whenever possible; position equipment to avoid cables crossing pedestrian routes, use cable covers to securely fix to surfaces, restrict access to prevent contact

• Consider use of cordless, portable tools

• Remember that contractors will also need to be managed

Spillage of wet and dry substances

• Clean spills up immediately - if a liquid is greasy, make sure a suitable cleaning agent is used

• After cleaning the floor can be wet for some time - dry it where possible

• Use appropriate barriers to tell people the floor is still wet and arrange alternative bypass routes

• If cleaning is done once a day, it may be possible to do it last thing at night, so it is dry for start of the next shift

Drinks machines and dispensers

• Floors around drinks machines and dispensers may become slippery due to spillages of water, tea or coffee

• It may be appropriate to reposition such machines to be away from main walkways and through routes, or to fit absorbent carpets around the machines


• Improve lighting levels and placement of light fittings to ensure more even lighting of all floor levels

• Ensure that defective lighting is addressed as soon as it is reported

• Provide adequate lighting especially during night hours or low-level lighting when entering rooms

• Instruct workers to use the handrail on stairs, to avoid undue speed, and maintain an unobstructed view of the stairs ahead of them even if that means requesting help to manage a bulky load


• Instruct workers to wear suitable footwear, particularly with the correct type of sole

• If the work requires special protective footwear the employer should provide
it free of charge

• Ensure that footwear worn by visitors complies with your standards - if not, have overshoes ready

Other issues

• Employers must assess the risks associated with slips, trips and falls and take measures to ensure people can move about the workplace safely

• Where certain floors are known to be slippery or are known to be slippery when wet, then these areas should be assessed and causes of slipperiness treated accordingly

• Promote safe work in cramped working spaces, avoid awkward positions and use equipment that makes lifts less awkward

• Use only properly maintained ladders to reach items, not stools, chairs, or boxes

• Keep aisles, passageways and exits free from obstruction and in good repair, with no obstruction across or in aisles that could create a hazard

• Provide floor plugs for equipment, so power cords need not run across pathways

Behavioural safety initiatives may be used to target issues such as the improvement of housekeeping levels, or the wearing of PPE. Setting up a behavioural safety campaign helps measure the background level of housekeeping, for example. Subsequent levels are then measured against this benchmark. The persistence of a behavioural campaign appears to depend on factors such as worker involvement and the effect of group working.

Studies show that good housekeeping practice is a sound method for reducing slip, trip and falls hazards and consequently reducing injuries in many other areas of work. Good housekeeping has additional, positive knock-on effects such as increased production and enhanced company image, and is a good method for getting the workforce involved in safety issues.

The main barrier to safe practice is often seen by managers as financial. They perceive an economic cost and a drain on the bottom line and, in addition, have to demonstrate to the budget holders as well the cost savings if they were to be seen to be more proactive - a return on investment.

The influence of management on safety culture and safety performance must be one of your key objectives. In controlling slips, trips and falls, supervisory staff that demonstrate enthusiasm for, and take part in safety practice will be more likely to help nurture a positive safety culture. The involvement of top management in safety matters also appears to be crucial, such that employees are in no doubt that preventing slips, trips and falls is just as important - if not more - as other criteria such as profit and production targets.

Influencing workplace behaviour, culture and attitudes requires a constant cascading of information, and targeting people at all levels in the organisation may further reduce slips and trips in the workplace. The emphasis has to be placed on the proactive management of the hazards.

Some easy and inexpensive ways to reduce slips, trips and falls are: remove the hazards; monitor near misses; avoid spillages and contamination; implement good cleaning regimes; ensure good lighting is present in workplaces. Constant consultation with both workers and the public can also be productive, and organisations should also ensure that management and employees are properly trained to carry out tasks.


• Slips and trips can be defended against but everyone must take positive action

• Challenge your working systems, review and audit - how well laid out and tidy is your working area?

• Challenge opportunist claimants - there are many just looking for an easy payout option

• Creating responsibility in management and employees is the key to asuccessful campaign

• Deal with spillages as you see them make it part of everyone’s culture, with no exceptions

• Raise awareness at the Project stage - eliminate at source before it becomes a problem ?

Author Details:

David Whiting is the Operations Director of Safety Business Services (SBS) Ltd. Their mantra is “SBS developing Best Practice.”
David has been an instigator in Occupational Health and Safety and Risk Management, working with different lead bodies in setting and developing the change agenda.

His presentations and training are energetic, interactive and seminars and workshops have instilled confidence in countless people around the world.
Clients have stated:
“In short, he helps people exceed their goals and has helped many of us to understand that removing a hazard altogether is better than trying to control it.” (UAE Trainee)
“The real brilliance of his work is that it is so simple - and that’s what good safety ultimately is.” (Californian delegate)
“David has this ability to connect and inspire at all levels. His quote “Accidents hurt in many ways - safety doesn’t cost the same” set the tone of the debate. (MEP)

David was recently quoted by a CEO in his annual report as saying:

“We all have a responsibility to challenge and learn from past practice - we cannot simply accept the status quo and live with it. What we can achieve is to take a more pragmatic approach, addressing things as we find them and seeking to improve them in practical ways, but also bearing in mind the risk and not overdoing it.”

David Whiting, EurOSHM, CMIOSH, MIIRSM, OSHCR, AIEMA, MIFL, is registered to operate in both Europe and internationally. David has led the SBS consultant practice with more than 35 years of occupational health, safety and risk management experience, working with both private and public sector environments. His particular area of expertise is the implementation of management systems, with experience in developing or delivering training programmes, courses covering general safety management or specific topics, across a broad range of industries.

Currently he is working with Rolls Royce as their Global Resourcing and Development Advisor.
W: http://www.sbs-associates.co.uk
E: davwhiting@uwclub.net


Published: 10th Jun 2011 in OSA Magazine


David Whiting

David Whiting, Safety Business Services (SBS) Ltd

David Whiting has been an instigator in change in Health and Safety presentations and training. His energetic, interactive seminars and workshops have instilled confidence in countless people around the world. In short, he helps people exceed their goals.

As a charted member of the Institute of Health and Safety (IOSH), and Company Director of Safety Business Services (SBS) Ltd, are a associate consultant service with over 35 years of occupational health, safety, corporate governance, contingency planning, supply chain and risk management experience working in both private and public sector environments.

Particular area of expertise is the implementation of management systems with experience in developing or delivering training programmes, courses covering general safety and risk management or specific topics, across a broad range of industries.

David and his associates are proud to be working in Partnership with IMS Certification FZE and National Academy and can be contacted on their stand at the Intersec trade fair.

David Whiting



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