Plant & Works Engineering
Slips, trips and falls – an avoidable epidemic
Published:  08 July, 2011

The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health’s (IOSH) senior policy and technical advisor, Jill Joyce, discusses slips, trips and falls. 

Slips, trips and falls are the most common cause of major injuries at work, but the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) believes these injuries are often the most preventable.

In 2009/10 there were 31,913 reportable accidents involving slips and trips in the workplace – four of those fatal. This figure relates only to slips and trips on the same level. Shockingly, the figure rises by over 10,000 when slipping and then falling from height is included and although this figure is three per cent lower than the previous year, it has increased by three per cent since 2005/06.

A recent IOSH survey with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), reported that one third of all reported major injuries are within that category, with 20% of over-three-day injuries to employees comprising slips, trips and falls, costing £512m a year to employers.

The report also showed slips and trips were a priority area in most member organisations, with eight out of 10 members believing their organisations were committed to tackling the issue. However, only 13% felt they were fully effective at controlling the risks associated with these accidents, and less than one in 10 felt good practice was always adopted in their workplaces and that workers were fully committed to co-operating to reduce risks.

More specifically, in the food and drink sector where there is a great deal of manufacturing, there are a handful of causes that consistently crop up as the key culprits of slips and trips. Wet floors cause 90% of slips, while 75% of trips are caused by obstructions - the rest arise from uneven surfaces.

It’s a misconception that these incidents are unavoidable, and in fact, where accident prevention techniques have been employed they have been known to cut injuries by 50%, reducing civil injury claims in the process. IOSH is calling for more education from the top down to give people the knowledge of how to make changes that will reduce incidents.

The most common causes of accidents in the food and drink sector are wet floors left after cleaning, food and drink spillages or fat residue, incorrect footwear for a particular floor surface, broken tiles or differing levels, oil spillages, change of floor surface - from dry concrete to wet terrazzo tiles - for example, and materials or equipment that obstruct.

There are some simple steps businesses can take to stop accidents happening, thus preventing damage to their bottom line from costly claims. Instruction and training can show staff the correct cleaning procedures and obstructions can simply be highlighted and avoided. A culture of cleaning spillages the moment they occur can be instilled, along with a habit of reporting broken flooring, spillages or leaks.

The working environment can also be altered to reduce the likelihood of incidents; good lighting can illuminate floors, signs and floor markings can indicate changes in floor surface or level. Also, by implementing a planned preventative maintenance regime, the causes can be stamped out. These might include slip resistant flooring, drains to carry away water, steam drips and waste from production equipment, and protective footwear with slip resistant properties that complement the floor surface. Good housekeeping and pedestrian route marking will help, as will adhering to manufacturer recommendations for keeping equipment and flooring in top working condition.

Manufacturers and installers play an important part in the route to reducing slips, trips and falls in the workplace. They are always best-placed to advise on what cleaning materials and methods to use, as the wrong ones can destroy protective properties that are designed to safeguard the workforce in the first place.

Supervisors and safety advisors should also be playing their part, by putting in place systems that regularly visually check all working areas and corridors.

It’s not just IOSH that believes more should be done to reduce these avoidable accidents. The Workplaces (Health, Safety and Welfare Regulations) 1992 says that every floor or traffic route should be constructed using a surface that is suitable, with effective drainage.  

Cutting the number of slips, trips and falls requires collaborative buy-in from the top down. It needs managers to realise the seriousness of these accidents and put in place systems that properly maintain areas to make incidents less likely. It also requires supervisors to regularly check employees are working in an environment that minimises the chance of an accident. Finally, employees need to understand the importance of keeping their eyes open to, and reducing the risks. If that culture can be successfully instilled in a business, it should start to see long-term improvements.


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