Features: February 28th, 2014

Accidents happen and tripping and slipping are among the most common causes. In this article Glenn MacLaughlan describes how public sector employers can take simple and uncomplicated action to address the issue and reduce the risk of accidents.

The rise of ‘no win no fee’ legal practices has resulted in a significant increase in the number of accident and injury claims made by personnel against employers. According to the Health and Safety Executive slips and trips are the most common injury at work, accounting for around 40% of all major injuries to workers as well as the general public. They also account for the highest number of compensation and injury claims in the UK, costing employing organisations an estimated £512 per annum.

Employers quite rightly have health and safety requirements that they are legally obliged to fulfil. The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to assess risks, including slips and trips, taking action to address them where necessary. The Workplace Health, Safety and Welfare Regulations 1992 require floors to be suitable, in good condition and free from obstructions.

Public sector organisations are particularly vulnerable, as they have to protect the general public in local authority buildings as well as their own staff in the workplace. However, there are proactive measures that can be taken to reduce the likelihood of slips and trips.

Measure and manage

Measurement is the key to management. The first stage is identifying areas where accidents are most likely to happen, which can be achieved through the practical application of a rigorous risk assessment policy. Assessing areas for slip and trip potential should be regular practice, with appropriate action taken as a result.

It’s also important to know which flooring surfaces are slip resistant. Taking the rudimentary DIY approach, if you know the names of any specific flooring products, the manufacturer should be able to supply the relevant technical data. For example, if a surface is described as R9, it will be slippery when wet. Be aware that if the manufacturer doesn’t specifically state that a floor surface is slip resistant when wet i.e. >35 ptv (pendulum test value), it will probably be slippery in wet conditions.

The Pendulum test

However, the most accurate and officially recognised way to measure slip resistance is to carry out a Pendulum test. The BS7976 Pendulum slip tester is the preferred method recommended by the HSE and is also the only slip reading method recognised by and used in a court of law. Furthermore, a Pendulum slip certificate displayed on your premises could well deter fraudulent claims, as well as supporting your case in court in the event of a claim. With an increasing compensation culture, so much can rest on the pendulum slip test that it is surprising that insurance companies don’t insist on this certification as standard.

The Pendulum simulates a slip by measuring the resistance of a floor wet/dry and returning numeric ptv (pendulum test value) values: 0 -24 (high risk) 25 – 35 (moderate risk) >35 (low risk). The slider strikes the floor and slides across the surface for 125 mm, carrying a needle into the resistant values. Testing usually takes around an hour and can take place out of the way of staff to minimise disruption.
Unfortunately, in my experience around 95% of testing is reactive; carried out in response to an accident rather than as a preventative measure. However, if organisations are really serious about addressing the issue of slips and trips, they should commission a test to ensure that they are aware which floor surfaces need special care or which may be a priority for replacement when refurbishment takes place. For example, at some sites we visit, a high priority is placed on staff having the correct ear defenders in locations where they are walking around machinery that could kill them if they slipped into it.

With prices starting from around £350, at the very least, testing demonstrates a concern for staff welfare and awareness of the issue. At best, it will improve safety levels and should help protect you if a case is brought to court. Don’t presume because somebody has slipped over, your floors are unsafe – a certified floor will prove you are providing due diligence and render you less liable against expensive slip injury claims, whilst certified evidence that your floor meets the HSE guidelines means that you may not be held liable for a slip injury.

In many cases, no action will be needed: a third of the floors we tested in 2013 passed the slip test in the wet and dry and required no further remedial action. In practice, unless the floor is contaminated, all surfaces we’ve tested will pass and be fit for purpose when dry. However, surface roughness isn’t always a reliable indicator as high gloss tiles are often more likely to return higher safety readings when dry than surfaces with anti-slip coatings. This is because the smoother the surface, the more surface friction is created when dry.

The slip factor

Footwear is often a significant factor in accidents, with leather soles and stilettos lacking grip, even in dry conditions. Contamination is another; most accidents occur when floors are wet or dirty, with the problem exacerbated on smooth surfaces such as glazed tiles or varnished wood, as well as floors that are poorly laid or maintained.

To counter this, there should be clear and comprehensive cleaning guidelines in place, highlighting good practice such as cordoning off wet areas and removing obstacles.

Furthermore, rigorous deep cleans can significantly impact on a surface’s slip resistance. Kitchens tend be one of the most vulnerable areas for slips due to the nature of the environment and the likelihood of contamination. Last year, having visited a well-known restaurant that was about to spend over £25,000 on a new resin anti-slip floor surface after an accident, testing proved that the floor was just heavily contaminated. Thorough degreasing revealed a very sound, safe surface underneath, both wet and dry. By introducing rotary cleaning and the correct dilution of degreasers, the floor passed the next test in both wet and dry conditions and continues to remain safe.

However, in most cases cleaning can only achieve so much. It’s almost inevitable that any smooth surface will fail the slip test when wet, unless they have had some type of microscopic anti-slip trip treatment applied and maintained.

Choosing the right surface

If fitting out new premises or carrying out refurbishment, it makes sense to choose flooring surfaces carefully. The HSE has a flooring selection tool which helps to identify types of flooring that are likely to remain slip resistant even when contaminated. It is also important to realise that how the floor is installed, maintained and treated will also affect its slip resistant properties and longevity.

Obviously, replacing flooring has a significant cost implication which makes it a non-viable solution for many public sector organisations. Furthermore, the chance of a whole floor becoming wet is remote, so paying a small fortune to replace it is an unwise investment. A better alternative is to apply some form of anti-slip treatment which is not only cheaper per square metre, but which can be applied in potential accident hotspots. It’s also important to appreciate that anti-slip treatments only increase the slip resistance for floors that become wet or contaminated – not when they are dry and clean. However, they can be very effective and solve potential health and safety issues – particularly if properly maintained.

Every facility, HSE or operations manager should be able to put their hands on the slip report for all the floors in their workplace. As a legal requirement and part of an organisation’s risk assessment, saying that there hasn’t been a slip for 10 years just isn’t good enough. In order to protect both themselves and their staff, organisations need to be proactive not reactive; it could save a lot of money and anguish in the long term.

Glenn MacLaughlan is MD at Floor Safe Ltd.