Mind your feet this winter
The danger with slip and trip accidents is that they are so commonplace that people begin to believe that they are inevitable, and can only be accepted – not controlled. This is especially true in the winter months when the cold begins to bite.
However a sensible risk management programme, which focuses on factors related to the individual, the activity or task being performed and the workplace environment, can dramatically reduce both the likelihood of such accidents taking place and the severity of those that do occur, not just in winter but throughout the year.
Main Causes of Slips
Slips often take place when there is not effective contact between a shoe sole and the floor surface. This can be due to:
- Faults with the floor surface
- An inappropriate floor surface
- Inappropriate footwear or contamination between the shoe sole and the floor surface such as mud, oils, greases and water
- Weather conditions including rain, snow and ice.
All of these factors, either individually or in combination, affect slip resistance.
The purpose of a preliminary assessment is to determine what areas and activities involve a significant risk of slip and trip injury and therefore warrant a full risk assessment. Often such an approach involves direct observation during safety sampling exercises or inspections.
Conducting a Detailed Slip and Trip Assessment
When carrying out a detailed assessment of the risks of slips and trips it is important to consider the individual e.g. age, medical conditions or disabilities, physical capabilities such as strength, height, type of footwear and training given. The task should be examined e.g. nature of any loads carried, movement from wet to dry areas, changing levels (stairs, ramps etc.) and equipment used.
Also the immediate environment
- Is the floor level, dry and free from spillages and obstructions?
- Does the floor provide sufficient grip? (Cleaning materials may affect grip)
- Are the stairs in good condition?
- Are the treads level and even?
- Are all the treads of similar lengths (goers) and dimensions?
- Are all the heights between treads (risers) of similar dimensions?
- Is the slope (pitch) suitable for safe access and not too steep or too shallow?
- Is a handrail required for safe access and, if so, is it suitable and in good condition?
- Are the edges of the treads (nosings) in good condition?
- Where coverings, such as carpets, are used, are they suitable and in good condition?
- Is there enough lighting in possible slip and trip areas, such as stairways and steps?
- Are there areas of shadow or significant changes in levels of lighting?
- Are there areas affected by glare?
- Is the lighting behind the person, which may cast a shadow (this is particularly significant in possible slip and trip areas, such as stairways and steps)?
- Is the lighting well maintained?
- Is sufficient emergency lighting provided, particularly on traffic routes?
- Is the area generally wet (e.g. this is a possibility in the kitchen or around a swimming pool)?
- Is non-slip flooring provided?
- Are mats, etc provided to dry shoes when moving from wet to dry areas or from outdoor areas to indoor areas?
- Are areas and traffic routes cleaned regularly and kept free from spillages and sources of obstruction?
- Are areas and traffic routes inspected regularly and are records of these inspections kept?
If it is not reasonably practicable to eliminate slip and trip hazards, the remaining risks should be reduced to an acceptable level. Often the best approach is to incorporate the control of slip and trip hazards in the overall risk management system, rather than trying to deal with individual issues in an ad hoc manner.
General measures to control slip and trip hazards include the following.
- Cleaning and maintenance, especially of floor surfaces, should take place regularly. Maintenance schedules and procedures should ensure that the building fabric, traffic routes and lighting, etc remain effective and in good order. If wet floor cleaning is necessary, it should be scheduled to take place outside of normal working hours, wherever possible
- Equipment should be maintained in order to reduce the leakage of liquids, and containers holding substances should be regularly inspected for leaks
- Adequate storage facilities must be provided, and rigorous housekeeping regimes should be implemented in order to reduce clutter that might cause trips
- Adequate lighting levels must be provided so that people can spot obstructions and slippery areas, etc. Additional lighting may be required at any surface level changes
- Floor surfaces must be checked regularly for loose finishes, holes and cracks, and worn coverings, and must be suitable for wet or dusty conditions if these are likely to arise
- Obstructions and spills must be removed immediately, and work areas and means of access and egress must be kept in a good condition generally
- Where obstructions and spills cannot be removed immediately, warning signs and barriers should be erected
- Non-slip flooring should be provided in wet and other high-risk areas
- Effective cable-management procedures should be implemented to prevent trailing leads, etc. in walkways and other traffic routes
- Employees should wear suitable footwear. There should be means to dry footwear where it is likely to become wet. It is important to provide signs, etc where a change from a dry to a wet floor surface takes place
- Workplace designs and layouts should reduce risk, and appropriate methods of work should be introduced and followed.
Inspection and Monitoring
Workplaces should be subject to regular inspection and random monitoring using techniques such as safety sampling. Safety sampling involves dividing the workplace into routes that can be walked briskly in 5–10 minutes. A route is selected at random and walked by someone independent of the area, who makes a note of any hazards (including slip and trip hazards) spotted.
Inspections involve observation of physical factors in an area, making use of a standard checklist (which will include reference to slip and trip hazards). These techniques help to ensure that traffic routes remain clear and unobstructed, that no trailing leads obstruct walkways and that stairways and passageways remain well lit, free from obstruction and in good repair.
Cold weather solutions
Numerous cold weather product solutions are available to help reduce physical slip and trip risks:
- De-icing equipment such as bags of de-icing salt, grit spreaders and grit bins are essential for premises that have external areas such as car parks and pathways. These items often sell out quickly when snow is forecast so it is recommended that employers check their stock before winter arrives
- Snow shovels are useful for quickly clearing snow, however it would be useful to include their use in premises risk assessments in case an employee injures themselves while shovelling
- Hazard warning signs can be helpful to warn people accessing the premises of slippy/icy areas. Also it might be more practical to clear a single access route to buildings, in which case diversion type signs might be used. ‘A-frame’ floor standing signs can be used for highlighting slippy areas inside buildings but be aware that they may also create a tripping hazard themselves if placed in unsuitable areas e.g. blind corners
- Don’t forget about company drivers – it will be useful to provide them with equipment that allows them to dig their car out if caught in snow e.g. portable shovel and car traction aids