When it comes to health and safety hazards in the workplace, slips, trips and falls are some of the most common and the most dangerous. No matter your working environment, almost anyone can be part of an accident involving slipping, tripping and falling over or from a height, which means that all employers need to consider how prevalent this risk is in their workplace and how they can prevent it.
Understanding the legislation relating to health and safety that covers slips, trips and falls is an important part of this, as not only does it help employers ensure that they are complying with the law, but many regulations also provide guidance and frameworks to help make your workplace safer. In this article, we highlight the five key slips, trips and falls regulations and explain how each of them is related to these kinds of workplace hazards.
The key legislation relating to safety at work is The Health and Safety at Work Act (1974). It covers a wide range of topics relating to staying safe whilst at work, and slips, trips and falls are a part of this.
This piece of legislation outlines the duties and responsibilities of employers, employees and business owners regarding health and safety at work. It’s a general set of regulations that places an expectation that staying safe in the workplace is everyone’s responsibility but particularly targets employers and managers as those who need to take appropriate steps to keep their staff safe.
According to the Health and Safety at Work Act, employers have a legal duty to “...ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare at work of all his employees”. This means that if something happens to an employee which could have been prevented by action from an employer, the employer is liable.
Employers are also responsible for ensuring that the systems and procedures that their workforce follow are safe, that all workplace equipment is safe and regularly checked and maintained to confirm this, and that all staff receive appropriate training and supervision to carry out any tasks that may be particularly dangerous, and that the general welfare of employees is maintained through workplace facilities.
This piece of legislation also requires any workplace with five or more employees to have a written health and safety policy that includes a record of the employer taking responsibility for their staff’s safety and details of the control measures put in place.
From an employee perspective, the legislation notes that all staff have a responsibility to take care of themselves and their colleagues whilst at work to prevent injuries and accidents and to cooperate with the health and safety measures that their employer puts in place.
The Health and Safety at Work Act relates to slips, trips and falls in the workplace because it states that it is the responsibility of employers to take appropriate action to reduce the likelihood of any of these accidents happening.
The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations (1999) is another large piece of legislation that is frequently referenced when talking about health and safety regulations in the UK. It was created to support The Health and Safety at Work Act and goes into more detail about employer responsibilities and expectations in regards to keeping their workforce safe.
According to the regulations outlined in this piece of legislation, employers are responsible for:
This main piece of legislation for health and safety is relevant to slips, trips and falls as these hazards are often outlined in risk assessments and require slips, trips and falls control measures to reduce or remove the chance of them occurring.
The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations (1992) is another, general piece of legislation relating to health and safety at work. It outlines what needs to be done to ensure basic welfare, health and safety in the majority of workplaces, but doesn't apply to construction sites as there are separate pieces of legislation that cover this in more detail.
This piece of legislation covers a wide range of contextual factors that influence the safety of a workplace, such as the ventilation, heating, light levels, washing and eating facilities. It also includes discussions of keeping floor spaces clean and tidy to prevent slips, trips and falls, so is one of the key pieces of legislation that explicitly controls these hazards.
Under The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations section 12, “Every floor in a workplace and the surface of every traffic route in a workplace shall be of a construction such that the floor or surface of the traffic route is suitable for the purpose for which it is used”.
This means that:
Whilst section 12 mainly deals with hazards relating to slips and trips, it does mention falls in relation to staircases. Section 13 of the regulations requires safety measures to be put in place to prevent “any person falling a distance likely to cause personal injury” and “any person being struck by a falling object likely to cause personal injury” as well as ensuring any pits or tanks containing dangerous substances are covered to prevent anyone falling into these.
If The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations are the main piece of legislation for health and safety regarding slips and trips, The Work at Height Regulations (2005) is one of the most important relating to falls in the workplace. This is because the majority of fall-related injuries at work happen when an employee is working at height.
‘Working at height’ refers to any kind of work that takes place where a fall may occur that will take someone from one level to another. This can be from above ground level to the ground, or from ground level to another surface beneath the ground such as a basement.
In The Work at Height Regulations, employers are required to control any work that takes place at height by implementing as many relevant control measures as possible. This begins by seeing whether the work can take place at ground level, but also includes things like risk assessments, working at height training and personal protective equipment and safety nets and harnesses.
Things like the hierarchy of control are used to reduce risk when working at height because of this legislation, giving employers a framework to follow when it comes to keeping employees safe.
Employees also have responsibilities under The Work at Height Regulations, which are to report any concerns or observations of dangerous situations to their employer, follow any health and safety training or guidance that is given, and use safety equipment as instructed at all times.
Finally, The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations (1992) is relevant to slips, trips and falls in the workplace because it discusses the appropriate footwear and safety gear that should be worn in order to prevent these kinds of accidents.
This legislation places a responsibility on employers to provide all of their staff with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) when they are undertaking any task that requires it. Employees must wear this equipment where appropriate and as instructed, report any damage that may make it less effective, and store it correctly so it doesn’t get damaged.
Regarding slips, trips and falls control measures, PPE may include work-appropriate footwear with a good grip that makes the wearer less likely to slip over. It may also include safety equipment that is worn whilst working at height, like a hard hat, which may lessen the impact of a fall if it occurs.
Slips, trips and falls are all caused by different factors, but in general these kinds of accidents are due to people failing to pay attention to their working environment and injuring themselves as a consequence. Breaking it down specifically, slips tend to be most commonly caused by wet floors and surfaces, trips are usually caused by obstructions or uneven surfaces in walkways, and falls tend to be caused by slippery, unstable or messy work surfaces.
According to government data from RIDDOR between 2020-2021, 33% of non-fatal injuries to employees were caused by slips, trips and falls on the same level, with an additional 8% of non-fatal injuries caused by a fall from height. Slips, trips and falls are together the biggest cause of injuries at work, which is why such a significant effort is made to prevent them.
Preventing slips, trips and falls begins with ensuring that an up-to-date risk assessment has been done before any work that may involve these risks takes place. This risk assessment will help make those involved aware of the potential health and safety hazards and also ensure that control measures are put in place to reduce the likelihood that any slips, trips and falls will occur.
Slips, trips and falls in the workplace cause a huge number of accidents each year, but are also hazards that are really easy to control and reduce. Whilst employees all have a responsibility to be aware of their surroundings and follow appropriate health and safety guidance, as an employer you need to make sure that you’ve done everything you can to minimise the impact that these risks could have on your staff, which includes being aware of relevant regulations and legislation.
If you’d like to find out more about preventing slips, trips and falls in your workplace, we offer ‘Slips and Trips: Introduction’, ‘Slips and Trips: Intermediate’ and ‘Slips and Trips: Advanced’ online courses that share much more information and guidance.