Falls due to slips or trips remain a significant contributor to the risk of injury and ill health at work. Recent statistics for Great Britain show that slips, trips and falls are the biggest cause of employer-reported non-fatal injuries to employees, accounting for 30% of all specified injuries.
It is estimated that over 6 million working days were lost last year because of non-fatal workplace injuries, with plenty of physical harm done to employees and significant costs to employers. But almost all slips and trips can be prevented, often with simple inexpensive interventions.
In this article, we explore the key control measures for slips, trips and falls and explain how to prevent them in the workplace with things like risk assessments, internal procedures and health and safety training.
Slips happen when an individual needs more friction than is offered by the combination of their footwear, the flooring they are walking on and any contaminant between the two. This is most common during the heel strike phase of gait and often results in a backward fall.
Someone might slip over at work because they are wearing unsuitable shoes, the floor surface is particularly slippery, or there is liquid on the floor. The biggest challenges when trying to prevent slips in the workplace are knowing where to get reliable information on flooring, understanding the ins and outs of cleaning, and knowing how to select footwear.
Trips occur when an individual catches their foot on an object, which interrupts their gait and usually leads to a forward fall. They are often the result of poor housekeeping or poor maintenance, such as an obstacle left in a walkway or a damaged surface standing protruding from its surroundings. Trips can also occur over temporary hazards like curled-up matting or trailing cables.
Obstacles as little as 10 mm high can cause someone to trip. Whilst they’re more common when someone isn’t paying attention to their surroundings, the fault should always be with whoever or whatever led to an object being left in a place where it poses a trip hazard.
A fall occurs when a person inadvertently comes to rest on the ground or a level that is lower than the one they started on. They usually happen on the same level, often as the result of someone slipping or tripping over.
Falls can also happen from one level to another, usually when someone falls to the ground from an elevated position or falls through the ground to a lower level underneath. Falls can cause some of the most severe workplace injuries, especially when they’re from height, so are often a key focus for health and safety initiatives.
There are a range of different control measures for slips, trips and falls that help to prevent them from creating risk in the workplace. Here are some of the key ways that you can remove slip and trip hazards at work, reduce the risk of falls and help employees stay safe.
Not all flooring is slippery when wet. One way that you can prevent slips in the workplace is to introduce slip-resistant flooring, which is particularly effective in environments where spillages are likely.
There are many different ways to test how slippery a floor is, but only a small number of tests are actually relevant to individual slips. HSE recommends the use of the pendulum test, which is a friction test which recreates the important aspects of an individual's gait.
This test uses a Pendulum coefficient of friction tester and a surface micro-roughness (Rz) metre. It can help businesses determine whether certain types of flooring will help to reduce the likelihood of slips, but doesn’t take into account things like wear and tear or the impact of contaminants. Therefore, slip-resistant flooring shouldn’t be the only control measure for slips, trips and falls in a workplace.
Cleaning is often overlooked as the least important aspect of a job. In reality, cleaning is an important task in any work environment and an essential element in reducing the risk of injuries caused by slips, trips and falls.
Well-planned floor cleaning removes contamination and reduces the risk of slips because it means that floors are free from hazards. Poorly planned cleaning can increase the risk of slipping and tripping by leaving smooth floors wet after cleaning and introducing trailing cables and other obstacles to the work environment.
All organisations should consider how well-planned and managed their cleaning system is so that floors are regularly being swept and cleaned so that they are safe to walk on. Any spillages should be reported immediately and employees should know where to find wet floor signs so that hazards can be highlighted
One thing that can increase the likelihood of slipping is unsuitable footwear. Whether this is high-heeled shoes or shoes without any grip on the soles, wearing this kind of footwear can increase the risk of slipping over whilst at work.
One way to combat this is to request that employees wear suitably gripping shoes in the workplace, bearing in mind that the slip resistance offered by footwear is wildly variable. The fall prevention experts at HSE’s Science and Research Centre have developed the GRIP rating scheme to describe the slip resistance of footwear and can help purchasers to find appropriate footwear, using a five-star rating system.
For low-hazard environments, One Star or Two Star footwear is a sensible way to protect staff from slips. Where slips are known to occur, Three Star or Four Star footwear will reduce the occurrence of slipping. In the most challenging working environments, Five Star footwear may be necessary to adequately control slip risk.
Where possible, trip hazards should be removed or repaired so that they no longer present a risk. An important step in preventing slips and trips in the workplace is ensuring that you have effective maintenance procedures in place that mean hazards are quickly reported and dealt with.
Employees should all know who to report hazards to when repairs are needed, and employers need to make sure that these repairs can be carried out by a professional as soon as possible. You also need to have safety measures in place that stop hazards from causing slips and trips whilst repairs are in progress, such as signage systems and internal reporting that lets other employees know about any areas they need to avoid.
In an ideal world, all slip and trip hazards in the workplace would be removed instantly. Where this is not possible, hazard awareness involves making sure that all employees know when a hazard is present in a work environment and clarifying how they can avoid hurting themselves.
Hazard awareness may also involve clearly identifying the hazard with a highlight which contrasts with its surroundings, to help people see the hazard and avoid tripping or slipping over. This could apply to hazards that appear suddenly, such as a spillage or a broken piece of machinery, or could be an area of the workplace where more risks are present.
One of the best ways to ensure that employees are aware of hazards and know how to report and avoid them is with health and safety training. This training will help everyone in the workforce to understand common hazards and the control measures for slips trips and falls that are used to prevent these hazards from causing accidents.
Online training is one of the best ways to help employees understand necessary health and safety guidelines, as it allows them to complete the training in their own time and at their own pace. Virtual College offers a range of health and safety training courses for employees, including slips and trips training.
One of the best things you can do when considering how to prevent slips trips and falls is to conduct a workplace risk assessment. This will help to identify the areas in the working environment where accidents are most likely to happen, create a clear list of hazards that need to be dealt with and provide a document listing how slips, trips and falls will be prevented and avoided at work.
As with any risk assessment, the first stage involves identifying all of the slips, trips and falls hazards in the workplace. After this, you’ll need to identify who they are likely to impact, whether this is staff or visitors and passers-by.
The next stage of a slips, trips and falls risk assessment is to calculate the severity of each risk, based on the likelihood of it happening and the impact that it would have. This then gives you a clear list of risks that need removing or reducing, with the priority being the most severe ones, which you then need to take action to make your workplace safer.
Finally, a record needs to be made of all the information that has been gathered in the risk assessment. This creates a document that can be referenced either to demonstrate what actions you have taken to make the workplace safer, or for employees to check if they’re looking for official health and safety procedures.
According to the Labour Force Survey, 41% of reported non-fatal injuries in the UK were caused by slips, trips and falls. These kinds of accidents are incredibly common at work because slips and trips can happen in any environment, not just ones where physical labour takes place.
There is no specific piece of health and safety legislation that covers slips, trips and falls in the UK, but the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 is generally considered to be the main law concerning it. Other slips, trips and falls legislation that discusses official hazard prevention procedures include The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999) and The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations (1992).
According to HSE, one of the most common causes of slips, trips and falls at work is obstructions in walkways. Other common causes include poor cleaning procedures, unsuitable footwear and unsafe flooring.
Slips and trips are the single most common cause of injuries at work, so employers must take action to prevent them from happening wherever possible. A combination of preventative measures in the work environment and behavioural changes in employees will help to reduce the likelihood of injuries caused by slips, trips and falls and help to keep your workplace as safe as possible for anyone in it.
For more information on how your organisation and its employees can protect itself from slips, trips and falls we have collaborated with the Health and Safety Executive to bring you three levels of Slips and Trips Training. Take a look at our online ‘Introduction’, ‘Intermediate’ and ‘Advanced’ courses to find the best option for your employees.