Stand on Your Own Two Feet

Stand on Your Own Two Feet

Minimising the risk of slips trips and falls

Although a common perception of health and safety legislation is that it can be excessive and onerous, it is important to remember that it exists for a very important reason – to prevent injury and loss of life. Kate Breslin, product manager at SGS, looks at the processes and procedures that should be implemented to create a safer working environment and why, when it comes to slips, trips and falls, creating an active culture of reporting and prevention should be adopted.

It is with disturbing regularity that we hear or read about accidents in the workplace that could have been prevented. Anyone who thinks that the issue of health and safety at work is overplayed should consider the fact that in the 12 months to April 2018 there were 144 people killed at work, according to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Furthermore, there were 71,062 injuries to employees reported under the Reporting of Injuries Diseases and Dangerous Occurrence Regulations (RIDDOR); 555,000 other injuries at work; and 30.7 million working days lost due to work related illness and injury.

Law and order

It is amazing to think that before 1974 approximately eight million employees had no legal safety protection at work. Although there was piecemeal legislation, which was often industry specific, The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 was the first to provide the legal framework to promote, stimulate and encourage high standards in places of work.

Employers must now:

  • Provide and maintain safety equipment and safe systems of work
  • Provide information, training, instruction and supervision
  • Provide a written safety policy

    In addition to this important piece of legislation, The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 and The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 both contain a consistent set of requirements.

    The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 still forms the basis of workplace safety law in the UK and since 1974 there has been a massive reduction in both fatal and non-fatal injuries, with the HSE stating that the former has fallen by 85 per cent and the latter by 77 per cent. Changes in the types of work that people carry out – with the number of workers in manufacturing declining by over three million and the growth of the service sector – accounts for some of this improvement but certainly not all.

    Cause and effect

    Slips, trips and falls in the workplace represent far more than a trivial problem. In fact, they are the single most common cause of major injury in UK workplaces and, according to HSE figures, accounted for 31 per cent of non-fatal injuries reported under RIDDOR in 2017-18, with an average of two deaths per year for slips, trips or falls on the same level.

    These types of incidents can occur anywhere for a wide range of reasons and contributing factors. Put simply, an area seemingly risk free one day can be a real problem the next. The factors that can contribute to an incident include the floor surface, the environment, footwear, contamination, obstacles and obstructions, and the physical actions of the person involved. The hazardous storage of tools and equipment, oil spillages, water caused by leaks, floor cleaning methods that increase the likelihood of slips occurring, a lack of warning signs when cleaning is in progress, and floors and carpeting that are poorly maintained are also factors. Likewise, a fall can occur when an individual unknowingly encounters a foreign object in his or her path, there is an unseen impediment or obstruction on the walking surface, or when a walking surface unexpectedly changes height.

    There are some simple ways to help prevent slips, trips and falls. These include cleaning up spills immediately, displaying wet floor signs when appropriate and keeping walkways free of debris, clutter and obstacles. It is also important to cover cables, keep filing cabinets and desk drawers shut when not in use, and encourage workers to wear suitable footwear.

    Case in point

    The impact of a slip, trip or fall can be life changing. Take, for example, the 16-year-old girl who was employed at a fast food outlet to cook at a frying range. She slipped on water leaking from an ice-making machine and instinctively put out her hand to break her fall, which went into the deep fat fryer containing oil at a temperature Article | Slips, Trips and Falls of 360°F. She sustained severe burns to her left hand and forearm.

    The local authority prosecuted the company and on successful conviction the magistrates imposed a fine of £15,000. The investigating environmental health officer stated that the accident was completely avoidable, as the company had failed to maintain a safe system of work or to carry out a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks associated with slipping within the kitchen.

    Then there’s the case of a company that, after a routine health and safety inspection visit from a local authority inspector, was required to replace a piece of carpet that represented a trip hazard. Some months later the inspector found that the carpet had still not been replaced and issued a written warning to the proprietor. Fifteen months after that initial inspection an employee suffered an injury when she tripped on the stair carpet. Tape placed across the worn out section had come away and the employee suffered a broken ankle and a dislocated foot. Ankle surgery followed and she was unable to walk for several months and still in pain and using a stick almost a year later. The proprietor pleaded guilty to offences under the Workplace (Health, Safety & Welfare) Regulations 1992, with a substantial fine being imposed and the proprietor being ordered to pay the prosecuting authority’s legal costs.

    High alert

    Working at height is a high risk activity and since 2001 an average of 50 people in the UK have died at work each year as a result of a fall from height, and around 8,000 have been seriously injured. The construction industry has the majority of these types of incidents and of the 196 fatalities that occurred in this sector in the five years to 2016-17, 49 per cent were falls from height.

    to be continued ....