Don’t be floored by flooring!

Published:  08 January, 2021

We all know how easy it is to lose our footing, catch our foot in something or fall off a ladder. But when it happens at work, it’s a whole different ball game. Andy Pye explains

Slips and trips are the most common cause of injury at work. On average, they cause 40% of all reported major injuries and can also lead to other types of serious accidents, such as falls from height. Around 90% of these are broken bones.

Falls are found in many work settings. A fall can occur during walking or climbing a ladder to change a light fixture, or as a result of a complex series of events affecting an worker high above ground. In fact, falls from portable ladders are one of the leading causes of occupational fatalities and injuries.

Preventing falls is not just an altruistic ambition. As well as the incalculable human cost, the financial costs to UK industry are substantial (estimated by the Health & Safety Executive at over £500 million per year).

Legal actions following an injury can also be extremely damaging to business, especially where the public is involved. Insurance only covers a small part of the cost. On the other hand, effective remedies are often simple and inexpensive. Slips and trips can actually be designed out of a building.

The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 puts an onus on employers to ensure the health and safety of all employees and anyone affected by their work, so far as is reasonably practicable. This means risk assessments, balancing the level of risk against the measures needed to control the risk in terms of money, time or trouble. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to assess risks (including slip and trip risks) and, where necessary, take action to address them.

Employees, too, have a duty to take care of their own health and safety and that of others and must use any safety equipment provided. A risk assessment is not about creating huge amounts of paperwork, but rather about taking sensible measures to control the risks in the workplace. What risks in may lead to slip or trip injuries and what control measures will prevent them? Remember that few workplaces stay the same, so it makes sense to review what you are doing on an ongoing basis.

The good news is that most accidents are preventable. It is critical to frequently survey your work environment to avoid potential issues. In many instances, straightforward measures can readily control risks. It can be as simple as using doormats to stop rainwater being tracked in and making the floor slippery; or ensuring that spillages are cleaned up promptly.

A functioning reporting system in conjunction with a risk assessment ensures that if an accident or near-miss occurs, it is reported promptly. This information is useful to prevent future accidents.

Machine Safety

Of course, if someone should fall, the hazard may not be limited to the fall itself, but also to where he or she may fall. In the case of working machinery, resulting in much more serious injury. Machines must have adequate safeguards to protect operators and other employees in the immediate work area from hazards created by ingoing nip points, rotating parts, sparks and flying debris. The safeguard must prevent hands, arms, and any other part of a worker’s body from making contact with dangerous moving parts.

Although machine guards are the first line of defence against injuries caused by machine operation, they can also protect someone falling from much more serious injury, or even death. The guarding around any machinery must be adequate and will detect the penetration of a safety envelope, switching the machine off instantly.

HSE guidance

Extensive guidance is available from HSE. Following it is not compulsory, unless specifically stated, and you are free to take other action. But if you do follow the guidance you will normally be doing enough to comply with the law. Health and safety inspectors seek to secure compliance with the law and may refer to this guidance.

Online learning tool

The HSE has a free online learning tool, called the Slips and Trips eLearning Package, referred to as ‘STEP’ (www.hse.gov.uk/slips/step/start.htm). This tool is designed for both employers and workers in all sectors, providing help on assessing and managing slip and trip risks in the workplace. It provides an overview of slips and trips, how they are caused and how to prevent them, from introductory to advanced level.

Hazard spotting checklist

The hazard spotting checklist (www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/ck4.pdf) issuitable for all workplaces as a practical guide to help employers identify problem areas for slips and trips and how to tackle them:

Mapping tool

The slips and trips mapping tool (www.hse.gov.uk/slips/mappingtool.pdf) shows how to identify hotspots for slips and trips.

Flooring

People rarely slip on clean, dry floors. It is floors in poor condition and bad housekeeping that are responsible for most trip injuries at work. Cleaning processes are often poorly thought through, with the cleaners themselves rarely involved in deciding how things are done.

Where a floor is likely to be subject to frequent contamination, people should still be able to walk on it without the risk of slipping. An HSE technical information sheet (Assessing the Slip Resistance of Flooring) looks at test methods for assessing floor resistance and describes the tests used by HSE and HSL in more detail. It is aimed at employers who need to measure floor slipperiness, such as manufacturers and research and testing bodies. This will also help employers assess slip risks in workplaces by helping them interpret flooring manufacturers’ test data.

Safety floors have surfaces that are a little rougher than standard surfaces. While there is no evidence that safety floors cannot be cleaned to a hygienic standard for food or medical environments, it can take a little extra time or effort to get the dirt off the floor and into the cleaning solution. They also tend to hold a little more cleaning solution.

This can mean that when the water from the cleaning solution evaporates, it may leave a little dirt behind. To avoid this, remove as much of the cleaning solution as possible, perhaps by using a dry mop or a wet vacuum, to leave the floor really dry.

Acid-etch treatments can sometimes be effective in improving the slip resistance of hard floors (such as tiles) in wet conditions. The acid works by dissolving part of the floor surface to provide greater surface roughness, and so has an effect on both appearance and lifespan.

Beware that many acid-etch treatments use hydrofluoric acid - there are countering health risks associated with this.

Staying Safe

If you see something you might slip or trip on, report it 

Clean up spills and anything slippery

Be clear about how to use cleaning products

Avoid cleaning materials that could make the floor slippery.

Clear walkways, stairs, and lobbies of trip hazards

Floor mats must lay flat

Use handrails

Check ladder extensions and legs

Ladders have load limits!

Make sure lighting is sufficient and that slopes or steps are

clearly visible

Get the right footwear

Avoid rushing and overcrowding

Remove obstacles and trailing cables

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