Preventing Slip And Fall Injuries And Liability
Slips and falls are the leading cause of death and injury in the work place, with 1,500 deaths and 300,000 injuries a year. 80% of employees who fall will lose days from work, and 12% have to be hospitalized. These accidents can cause broken bones, strained muscles, twisted/dislocated joints (knees, hips, ankles, shoulders), head injury and spinal damage. The average compensation from an employee’s fall injury is $4,700 and average medical expenses are $2,000.
But employee accidents make up only a small number of the 13 million slip, trip and fall injuries that occur each year, (according to the National Safety Council, 25,000 slip/fall accidents happen in the US per day!) and in this age of rampant litigation and outrageous amounts awarded in settlements, one lawsuit can ruin a business. Almost a billion dollars in various expenses are incurred each year due to slip and fall accidents.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, the American civil liability system cost $161 billion in 1995, or 2.3 % of the nation’s gross national product compared with 1.4% in 1970 and .6% in 1950. Another indication of the growth of total liability claims is the amount paid out to such claims. This increased three-fold in inflation-adjusted dollars from 1980 to 1995.
The preponderance of such lawsuits adversely affects everyone by increasing the costs of worker’s compensation and other types of liability insurance. More than 21% of all insurance claims are attributed to slips and falls, and that particular category of accident has also become a favorite target for insurance scams.
The current trend in slip/fall litigation is to not merely blame the business owner or the custodial supervisorthese days the building owner, the cleaning supervisor, the floor finish maker, and even the product distributor can be held responsible and named as defendants in the suit.
As with all types of safety concerns, it must be realized that accidents don’t just happen they are caused, and as such can be prevented. The trouble is, with slip and fall accidents sometimes it is the victim who should have taken steps to prevent the incident, (perhaps simply by wiping his/her feet) but the facility may still get blamed.
Prevention and Preparation are the two main defenses against both slip and fall accidents and the potential threat of a lawsuit. Prevention involves an awareness of potential hazards and the implementation of an effective floor maintenance plan. Preparation means you operate under the assumption that a slip and fall will occur at some time, and you must be ready to defend against the charge of negligence with proper maintenance, record-keeping and documentation.
Causes Of Slip And Fall Accidents:
It is a widespread myth and misconception that the floor finish itself the “wax”, although few are really wax-based anymore is the cause of many slip and fall accidents. Floors are finished to protect and preserve the flooring material, to prevent stains, to ease cleaning, and to beautify and better illuminate a facility. But a shiny floor does not automatically mean a slippery floor. Shine, the number or thickness of coats, or how recently they were applied usually has nothing to do with the slickness of the surface. In fact, many modern floor care products actually increase the slip-resistance of a floor (more on that later).
Why Do People Fall?
A few common reasons:
- Surface Contamination
- Surface Transitions(from outside to inside, or one type of surface to another, or from dry to wet/wet to dry)
- Running or walking too fast
- Inappropriate footwear
- Physical limitations
The most common cause of a slippery floor is some unwanted substance on the floor, which can create a “hydroplaning” situation something comes between the shoes and the floor, and then the friction quality of the floor hardly matters at all. Some of the more common sources of surface contamination are: grease/oil spills, water (ice or snow as well), mud, soap, stripper, or fresh (wet) finish. Although 9 out of 10 falls happen on wet floors, surface contaminants don’t have to be liquid in nature cement dust, burnisher dust, construction debris, cardboard, or sawdust can create the same danger. Slick or inappropriate footwear such as smooth leather soles, worn down rubber soles, or high heels can also contribute to falls. The first step of prevention is to recognize such dangers.
- Entrances/exits, lobbies (especially on bad weather days), ramps, stairways
- Kitchens, food preparation areas, walk-in freezers/refrigerators
- Rest rooms, shower rooms
- Areas with leaking pipes or dripping condensation
- Supermarkets, especially produce areas
- Healthcare, elder-care facilities
- Health clubs, pool decks
- Anywhere made frequently wet by the nature of the work
- Anywhere the floor surface changes in level or texture
- During damp mopping/floor maintenance
One type of potential hazard can be invisible, and thus very dangerous the overspray of aerosol or pump sprayer wood/metal polish, which settles to the floor and is extremely slick yet does not show. In order to recognize this potential hazard, maintenance personnel must be aware of where this can occur: namely in front of elevators or wooden display cases, beneath wooden stair railings, in front of brass handled doors, and so on. A simple form of prevention of this hazard is to carefully spray the polish onto the cleaning rag and not directly on the surface to be polished. Potted plants, when watered, may leak water on the floor and create a hazard some time later. These examples demonstrate what is meant by identifying potential hazards.
Employees can do their part in the prevention of their own slips and falls by following the four-step procedure suggested by the National Safety Council:
|1)||Hazard Recognition be alert, spot hazards in advance, and don’t create them yourself with sloppy work or poor housekeeping.|
|Hazard Avoidance steer around hazards, avoid contaminating the soles of your shoes. If you must go through a hazard, slow down, take smaller steps, avoid sharp turns, keep weight over your feet, and walk carefully with both hands free.|
|Hazard Control alert others. Notify supervisors/maintenance personnel of the potential hazard. If possible, fix or at least mark the hazard yourself.|
|Appropriate Footwear generally, rubber soles, with some kind of traction patterns. Avoid smooth leather soles, and heels of any height.|
Once you have identified the potential slip and fall hazards in a facility or business, you must then decide on appropriate action, such as cleaning, repair, replacement, a change in work habits, or increased/improved training for workers.
Perhaps the most important step in the prevention of slip/fall accidents is the implementation of an effective floor maintenance program, and this involves much more than just cleaning the floors at a regular time each day.
Logically, a floor maintenance program must begin with the selection of the finish and other products to be used, and this can be done with an eye towards protection from liability as well as maintaining quality floors. There are finishes, and even detergents, specifically designed to increase the slip resistance of the floor. Look for UL listings or other such recommendations on the product container. But it is essential to chose a reputable manufacturer/supplier who will back the quality and slip resistance of their finish, even so far as providing an expert witness in court in a lawsuit situation.
The Floor Maintenance Program:
Daily: Must include the following at the very least, in order: dust mopping, wet mopping, auto-scrubbing (manual or riding machine), and frequent spot mopping. The latter cannot be over emphasized. Prompt cleanup of unexpected spills is one of the best ways to reduce slip/fall hazards, and if it cannot be attended to right away, the simple act of surrounding the spot with warning signs can greatly reduce your liability.
Wet Cleaning: Always use “Wet Floor” signs when cleaning, placed at both ends in such a manner as to be easily seen well before someone enters the cleaning area, and also outside of any doors that open immediately upon the cleaning area. Yellow or orange mop buckets, pylons, cones, and warning tape can also be used, the more of them the better. Leave them in place until the floor is completely dry. If all else fails, simply warning someone in a loud clear voice that they are in a dangerous area is a protection against liability. Try to conduct major and wet types of cleaning during the facility’s non-peak times. Another method is to clean 1/2 the width of the hallway/floor at a time, so passersby can walk on the other half.
Chemical Usage: It is important to use the cleaning chemicals properly. Chemical overuse can leave a residue, and chemical underuse doesn’t clean the floor and both situations can reduce the slip-resistance of the floor.
Stripping: Stripping the finish off of floors is one of the most dangerous maintenance chores, for both the workers doing the job and any passersby. Stripper is extremely slippery, but especially when first applied to the floor those moments when the finish is chemically lifted and held in suspension but has not yet been buffed into a foam. The work area must be clearly blocked off, and workers themselves must concentrate, take small steps, keep weight over their feet and feet slightly apart, while wearing appropriate footwear. Some manufacturers can even supply special abrasive-pad attachments for the soles of shoes to be used during stripping. And again, if possible, perform stripping late at night or during slow hours.
Burnishing: Despite the public misconception that equates shine with slippery, most manufacturers actually recommend burnishing to increase and maintain slip-resistance.
Floor Mats: Numerous slip/fall accidents are caused by walking into a facility from wet weather or with soiled shoes and then stepping upon a smooth floor surface, so walk-off mats must be placed at all entrances/exits. Have them cleaned on a regular basis, and have some spares available for particularly inclement days because a soaking wet mat won’t dry anyone’s feet. Furthermore, replace mats when they are so old that the edges are starting to permanently curl, which could contribute to a “trip” type of accident.
Spill Plan: Have this built into your program so that unexpected spills are quickly cleaned up. Also, make sure that all workers know the locations of “Wet Floor” signs or barriers, so that a spill can be marked at the very least before cleaning.
Inspections: Have someone designated to conduct frequent inspections (once or twice a shift) to look for potentially hazardous situations, observe the condition of floor surfaces, worker habits, the effectiveness of the floor care program, and such “trip” dangers as: loose carpeting/stair treads, blocked/cluttered areas, poor lighting, wrinkled/curled mats, etc. These inspections should also be documented.
Training: All cleaning personnel must of course be thoroughly trained in matters of reducing slip and fall accidents, but floor safety must also be communicated to all employees. Then they will be aware of the danger of both physical injury and a lawsuit, and will be more apt to report unsafe conditions to the proper maintenance/supervisory personnel.
The final aspect of the floor maintenance program and of particular importance in reducing liability is thorough documentation of the program. Cleaning activities should be recorded in writing, with forms/schedules that show both who performed the job and when. For instance, supermarkets and department stores often use “sweep sheets” to document that an area is regularly cleaned.
Other documentation should include:
- Products being used
- Cleaning procedures, and how often
- Inspections, slip-resistance testing
- Employee training materials used, and how often
- Building traffic counts
- Accident reports
Copies of all local, state, and federal regulations concerning slip/fall responsibility, building codes, etc.
All these materials taken together and kept detailed, up to date, and appropriately filed is evidence of an implemented slip and fall safety strategy. Not having such a program in place will greatly increase your liability. Maintenance supervisors can receive help from OSHA, the ADA, or private consultants to construct a proper slip and fall safety strategy.
Other Slip-Resistance Measures/Devices:
Anti-slip coatings: These go beyond the slip-resistant properties of a shiny floor finish, and can be used for particularly hazardous areas. They are applied like a thick paint. The old form of this was simply sand thrown on wet paint, which was effective temporarily but would eventually wear down. There are now many types of epoxies or enamels mixed with gritty compounds or friction granules, with the best varieties costing from $1 to $3.00 per square foot.
Anti-slip Tiles/Flooring: The same premise as above, but in the form of tiles, or continuous sheets of vinyl flooring, which have a textured surface to increase friction.
Surface Modifiers: These are often applied to mineral type flooring materials such as terrazzo, granite, marble, etc. The modifier is a chemical that dries with tiny, microscopic pores which cannot be seen and so do not interfere with shine but can create a certain degree of increased slip-resistance even on a wet floor. These should only be applied by trained professionals.
High-traction Safety Tape/Treads: Treads are often seen on stairways, especially of public buildings, and are strips of metal with an abrasive surface adhered to them, and are screwed or glued to the front edge of each stair, or across ramps. The tapes can be purchased in large rolls of varying widths, and are abrasive minerals bonded by a strong polymer to a plastic film with an adhesive backing, and can be used on bathtub/shower interiors, ladder rungs, etc. Note most building codes do require that ramps be somehow “roughened” or other wise made slip-resistant, and most public building codes require the same of stairs. Building/maintenance supervisors should of course always be aware of such codes.
Slip-resistant matting: Plastic or rubber floor mats with a textured surface, to be placed in particularly hazardous areas.
Responding To A Slip/Fall:
You want to do everything possible to prevent slip and fall accidents, and if you have searched for and eliminated potential hazards, and implemented an effective floor maintenance program, you have made good progress towards that goal. But if an accident should occur, you must respond in a way that properly attends to the victim but also guards against unwarranted liability:
1 Help the victim. Verbally express concern for their well-being. Get medical assistance if needed. Give first aid only if absolutely necessary, using a properly trained employee. Get as much information from the victim as possible, and write it down.
2 Try to determine the cause of the fall. Immediately inspect for surface contamination, hazards, foreign objects, etc.
3 Note the condition of the victim’s footwear quality of soles, type of shoes, heels, untied laces, etc.
4 Note if victim’s clothing could have contributed to the accident long/loose skirts, loose coat belts, constricting attire, etc.
5 Determine if victim was carrying anything.
6 Determine if victim has any physical impairments, visual deficiencies, etc.
7 Look for signs of illness, or alcohol and/or drug intoxication.
8 Look for any witnesses, and get their statements as well as names, addresses, and phone numbers.
9 If possible, take a photograph of the scene, the victim, the location, and any other factors. A camera should be part of the Slip/Fall Safety Strategy, and kept somewhere accessible to all workers.
10 Fill out an accident report immediately.
11 Be sure to make note of the outside weather conditions, nearby construction, and any other possibly contributing factors.
12 All employees must be careful not to say anything about possible fault or blame.
Negligence is generally defined as the failure to act with a reasonable degree of care. Under most state negligence laws, the property owner must or should have had actual knowledge of the condition which existed and led to the fall. To prove a case of negligence from, for instance, liquid or debris on the floor, one must show that the business owner or facility manager at the time placed the substance on the floor or should have known it was there. However, some locales have laws concerning the removal of ice and snow from on/around the property, especially parking lots, sidewalks, and stairs. Many of these regulations state that within a certain number of hours after precipitation has stopped the owner must make a reasonable attempt to make the property safe for pedestrian traffic. Ramps and stairways must also be maintained according to various building codes.
Ideally, it should actually be rather difficult for a plaintiff to win a slip and fall injury case, for to do so they must prove: that the accident was the defendant’s fault; that the defendant knew or should have known of the hazard; and that the defendant was in these or other ways negligent. More specifically, a company or facility can be found negligent if any of the following can be proven:
- Faulty or unsafe floor construction
- Unsafe, poor lighting
- Failure to warn workers/passersby of hazardous conditions
- Failure to inspect and maintain floors
- Use of floor finish with less than .5 COF
- Improper use of floor products
If a facility has merely gone to the effort of establishing a Slip and Fall Safety Strategy and a Floor Maintenance Program, this goes a long ways towards refuting claims of negligence. In fact, that would cover one of the five main questions that are always asked when determining liability for a slip and fall accident:
1. Was the floor wet or dry?
2. Was the floor otherwise contaminated, and with what?
3. What is the COF of the floor?
4. What type of floor maintenance program is in place?
5. Was the victim’s physical capability in some way reduced?
If you do, however, find yourself faced with slip/fall litigation, gather all the facts concerning the incident, get it all in writing, and retain an expert witness, perhaps through your floor product supplier or manufacturer. If you are sued and lose, then learn from your mistakes. Fix the hazards, review procedures, or implement the appropriate training or program.
The keys to avoiding a slip and fall accident, and defending against litigation should one occur, are preventive maintenance and careful documentation.
Select products with proven slip-resistance, manufactured by a reputable company that will stand by their products, even in court. Establish an effective floor maintenance program. Train employees in safety. Regularly test your floors for slip-resistance. Maintain clean, well-finished floors, make repairs as needed, and always warn passersby of wet/hazardous conditions. Immediately block/clean up unexpected spills. Use walk-off mats, and keep them dry. Employ thorough documentation keep up to date written records of cleaning, training, testing and accidents.
Americans With Disabilities Act Information
National Safety Council
ph: 630-775-2322 fx: 630-285-0242
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
US Consumer Product Safety Commission
(National Injury Information Clearinghouse)
Occupational Safety and Health Association
Safety On Line