Still slipping up on safety?

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Slips, trips and falls are the single biggest cause of non-fatal injuries at work in Britain – but there are many practical and cost-effective ways of preventing them.

Slips, trips and falls continue to be the most common cause of non-fatal workplace injury, resulting in lost working days for businesses and avoidable injuries for employees.

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), slips, trips and falls accounted for 30 per cent of all non-fatal injuries reported by employers in the last year, 2021/22. That translates into an estimated 106,000 reported cases, based on reports by workers themselves. There were also reported fatalities attributed to slips, trip and falls. This equates to an average of 38 workdays per year being lost to this type of injury. While this figure is gradually reducing, year-on-year, the issue still persists. As the most common form of injury, preventative measures for slips, trips and falls must be taken and provided by employers to keep their employees safe.

Slips, trips and falls accounted for 30 per cent of all non-fatal injuries reported by employers in the past year, 2021/22. Photograph: iStock

The construction industry experiences a high proportion of slips, trips and falls, with around 25 per cent of non-fatal workplace injuries in this category. Several thousand construction workers are injured each year following a slip, trip or fall while working on a building site, with over 450 of these injuries in Britain resulting in someone fracturing bones or dislocating joints.

Understandably, a recent study indicated that 40 per cent of construction workers feel unsafe at work and 78 per cent of those surveyed had been involved in an accident at work. So, what are the main hazards that can cause slips, trips and falls, and what kind of preventative measures should employers be taking to keep their workers and others, like visitors, safe?

Legal duties

Though there is no specific legal Act setting out the measures employers should take to protect employees and others from slips, trips and falls, there are three main laws and regulations that make it clear employers must take appropriate action to minimise the risk of injury from slips, trips and falls:

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HSWA): Under the HSWA 1974, employers have a duty of care for the health and safety of their employees, and anyone impacted by their work. They must take all reasonably practicable measures to control risks, considering factors such as cost, time and effort. This includes implementing measures to manage and minimise slip and trip hazards in the workplace.

The HSWA also places a duty on employees to exercise reasonable care for their own health and safety and that of others and to use all the safety equipment provided by their employer. This therefore includes a duty to help prevent slips and trips at work – for example, by not creating slip and trip hazards wherever possible and warning others about any slip or trip hazard they discover or accidentally create.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (regulation 3): These regulations in effect reinforce the requirements of the HSWA, and specifically require employers to assess risks to people’s health and safety at work (including slip, trip and fall risks) and take appropriate action, where necessary.

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 (regulation 12): These regulations require employers to provide their employees with a safe working environment, including ensuring floors, walkways and pedestrian traffic routes (like gangways and stairs) are suitable, in good condition and free from obstructions.

Slipping hazards

According to an Arco survey of 500 UK health and safety managers, 60 per cent of employers don’t test the footwear they provide employees in their intended working environment to ensure it is fit-for-purpose. This is despite three quarters of all floors failing to achieve a safe standard of slip resistance, according to Arco’s survey.

The first step towards protecting employees and others – such as visiting workers and members of the public – is to identify the potential causes of slips, trips and falls and the hazards that increase the likelihood of them occurring. If, despite implementing control measures like safer floor surfaces and cleaning regimes to remove floor contamination that could cause slips and trips, there is an unavoidable risk of slipping in the workplace, according to the hierarchy of control, the employer must to provide workers with suitable personal protective equipment (PPE) – namely slip-resistant safety footwear – to help safeguard them from slip, trip and fall accidents and injuries.

An Arco boot being manufactured. Photograph: Arco

Employers should therefore carefully assess the potential causes of slips, trips and falls so they can select the most appropriate slip-resistant footwear for the specific work environment and the hazards.

Some of the common causes of slips, trips and falls – and ways of preventing them – include:

Uneven surfaces – many slips and trips occur when employees are exposed to uneven flooring in their workplace. To minimise the risk of this, walkways should be:

  • Clearly designated
  • Signposted and adequately lit
  • Cleaned and swept appropriately to remove contamination and objects that could cause people to slip, trip or fall.

Obstacles – obstacles that obstruct a person’s path, such as building materials and waste, can catch workers off guard and result in them slipping or tripping. However, it can be difficult to ensure that employees are always conscious of the need to watch out for and prevent obstacles on the ground and walkways as they perform their day-to-day tasks. As a result, warning signs and general reminders – for example, signs warning of the need to keep gangways clear and regular reminders during training and from managers a day-to-day basis – are a good way of reminding staff to always follow good housekeeping procedures, such as keeping gangways clear, cleaning up ‘as they go’ and reporting obstacles and other slip and trip hazards to supervisors.

Similarly, providing a designated area for waste collection, a reasonable number of bins and ensuring someone has responsibility for regularly removing all waste so it does not build up or end up causing a hazard will help to ensure a safer site. Planning deliveries correctly, such as organising deliveries at a time when a suitable number of employees are on hand to process the order efficiently, will also help avoid obstacles being left lying around the site prior being moved to the work area or into proper storage areas. This will also avoid waste materials from unpackaging deliveries being left on floors and posing a slip or trip hazard.

Trailing electrical cables – where possible, during tasks like construction, maintenance or cleaning, cables should be suspended high above the floor or work surface level to prevent employees tripping over them. Equally, if cordless power tools are available and suitable for the work then they should be favoured over corded tools to eliminate the risk of a cable trip entirely.

Wet or slippery surfaces – wet surfaces should be cleaned and dried, if possible, at the earliest suitable opportunity to prevent an avoidable slip from occurring. Wet and slippery surfaces should also be signposted appropriately using warning signs – for example, if a surface could get wet during work tasks, or while the wet surface is being cleaned and dried. If a floor surface is liable to become wet or slippery, it may be possible to treat it with suitable anti-slip measures, such as applying grit on icy paths or anti-slip coatings on more permanent fixtures, like vinyl floors. Temporary coverings can be used in place of treatments if this is more suitable.

Changes in levels – sudden changes in levels between floors, such as when people pass through doorways and are met with a different level or step onto or down from elevated platforms, can catch employees out if they are unaware. If the level of the floor surface changes, or people need to move from one level to another, a ramp can reduce the risk of a slip, trip or fall. If it is not possible to install ramps, signs should be posted to warn employees of the change in level.

Preventing slips, trips and falls

Education – one of the most effective ways of preventing slips, trips and falls is educating and reminding employees about the dangers they pose and how to avoid them. In fact, employers have a legal responsibility to provide employees with information, instruction and training on how to prevent slips, trips and falls, where the risk exists. Often employees are unaware of how common and serious slips, trips and falls can be at work and in public places.

Employers have a legal duty to consult employees on matters affecting their health and safety, and should therefore ask employees about the slip, trip and fall hazards, as they may notice things that are less obvious and may have good ideas on how to control the risks. By involving the workforce and encouraging them to report accidents, near misses, potential hazards and solutions, employers can use this feedback and reporting to improve risk management in working areas and access routes.

Slip-resistant shoes, trainers and boots – it can be difficult to identify the most appropriate slip-resistant footwear to provide at work, as sole descriptions are varied and soles are often simply described as ‘slip resistant’, with no description of the conditions for which the footwear is most suitable. Additionally, during the selection process, several other factors will need to be taken into account, such as the durability of the footwear, how comfortable the shoes, boots or trainers are and other safety factors, like toe protection for those working on construction sites or in warehouses.

Footwear providers can offer advice and information on the most suitable footwear for the slip hazards, contamination and floor surfaces present at work, and it is generally a good idea to trial footwear with a representative sample of the workforce before deciding whether it is suitable for all workers, slip hazards and working environments.

Risk assessment – as stated, the risk assessment for slips and trips should identify and consider the type of contaminants that might be present – such as water, oil, chemicals, foodstuffs, dust and condensation – and the level of risk these hazards present. Taking these slip hazards into account, will help when making judgments balancing the footwear’s slip-resistance qualities against other important factors, like durability, wearer comfort and wearer acceptance.
The employer should also think about how frequently the contamination might occur and the surface or terrain employees will be walking or working on. All these factors will help determine the most suitable type of slip-resistant shoe, boot or trainer for the job.

Slips, trips, and falls remain a significant challenge in the workplace. Through legal compliance, hazard identification, preventive measures, employee education and appropriate footwear selection, employers can prioritise the safety of their workers and mitigate the risks. In turn, this will lead to better overall worker wellbeing and minimal lost working days.

Identifying and addressing the main causes of slips trips and falls should be a priority for employers to prevent these types of incidents occurring. Regular risk assessments, awareness of standards and choosing the correct footwear according to slip resistance tests will better protect workers and improve workplace risk management.

To find out more about the steps employers can take to prevent slips, trips and falls, visit: arco.co.uk/expert-advice/safety-footwear/hazards-risks/slips-trips-falls

Emma Willison is product and procurement manager at Arco


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