THE COST OF SLIP AND FALLS
Unfortunately there are no official statistics in South Africa regarding slip and fall accidents. The following information was obtained from the USA and the UK.
The United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports that slips and falls account for 15% of all accidental deaths
A National US Health Survey indicates that one in fifteen persons incurs a home injury requiring medical attention every year, with slip and fall injuries forming the bulk of these. 28 000 people are killed every year by unintentional home injuries, and of these about 11 000 are related to slips and falls. The US National Safety Council reported that in the US 170 000 people are injured in bathtubs and showers and over 800 000 injuries occur on floor surfaces for various reasons each year. In the United Kingdom the single most common cause of non-fatal injuries to employees is slipping/falling, and the European Foundation ranks slips and falls as the second highest common cause of injuries in eight European countries.
However, workplace injuries in South Africa constitute a high proportion of risk. Clerical and administrative occupations, like office workers, suffer 14,41% of all reported occupational health and safety accidents involving compensation claims. Loss incidents involving office equipment make up 3, 79% of all accidents.
SA Compensation Commissioner claims reveal a saga of constant losses in human life, quality of life and suffering related to production loss and skills loss, making the prevention of the slip and fall component imperative. Total claims in recent years have averaged around 200 000 to 220 000 claims per annum.
Who is responsible?
Slip and fall accidents are almost all directly connected to the floor – either you slip on it or you fall on it, so who is responsible for an injury resulting from a slip and fall accident? As we have seen, many thousands of people are injured each year – some very seriously – when they slip or trip and fall on a ‘dangerous floor’, a flight of stairs, or a rough patch of ground. Sometimes the property owner is responsible for the accident, and sometimes he/she or the company is not.
If you have been injured in this way, first consider that it is a normal part of life (and the force of gravity) for all things to fall on or drip onto a floor or ground, and for smooth surfaces to become uneven. Also, some things put in the ground (such as drainage grating) serve a useful purpose there, so a property owner (or occupier) cannot always be responsible for immediately picking up or cleaning every slippery substance on a floor. Nor is a property owner always responsible for someone slipping or tripping on something that an ordinary person should expect to find there, or should see and avoid. We all have an obligation to watch where we are going. However, property owners do need to be careful in keeping their property safe.
While there is no precise way to determine when someone else is legally responsible for something on which you slip and trip, cases turn on whether the property owner acted carefully so that the slipping or tripping was not likely to happen – and whether the victim was careless in not seeing or avoiding the accident.
What causes slips and trips?
Slips happen where there is too little friction or traction between the footwear and walking surface.
Common causes of slips are wet or oily surfaces; occasional spills; weather hazards; loose, un-anchored rugs or mats; or flooring or other walking surfaces that do not have the same degree of traction in all areas. Trips happen when your foot collides with (strikes, hits) an object causing you to lose your balance and eventually fall.
Some common causes of tripping are an obstructed view; poor lighting; clutter in your way; wrinkled carpeting; uncovered cables; bottom drawers not being closed; uneven walking surfaces (steps, thresholds).
Both slips and trips result from some kind of unintended or unexpected change in the contact between the feet and the ground or walking surface. This shows that good housekeeping, the quality of the flooring, selection of proper footwear, type of stair treads, and appropriate pace of walking are critical for preventing fall accidents.
Good housekeeping is the first and the most important level for preventing falls due to slips and trips. It includes cleaning all spills immediately; marking spills and wet areas; mopping or sweeping debris from floors; removing obstacles from walkways and always keeping them free of clutter; securing (tacking, taping, etc.) mats, rugs and carpets that do not lie flat; always closing filing cabinet or storage drawers; covering cables that cross walkways; keeping work areas and walkways well lit; and replacing used light bulbs and faulty switches.
Without good housekeeping practices, any other preventive measures such as installation of sophisticated flooring, speciality footwear or training on techniques of walking and safe falling will never be fully effective. If you cannot remove the hazard then ensure you control the hazard. Changing or modifying walking surfaces and stair treads is the next level of preventing slips and trips.
Recoating or replacing floors, installing stair treads with durable non slip capabilities and installing mats, pressure – sensitive abrasive strips or adhesive – filled paint on coating, metal or synthetic decking can further improve safety and reduce the risk of falling.
However, it is critical to remember that hi-tech flooring and treads require good housekeeping as much as any other flooring. In addition, resilient, non – slippery flooring and stair treads such as rubber and encapsulated grits and some vinyl flooring prevent or reduce foot fatigue and contribute to slip prevention measures.
Types of slip resistant floors and stairs to consider include brushed concrete, sheet vinyl with abrasive material, and seamless epoxy or urethane with surface aggregate. Porous surfaces tend to be the most slip resistant.
Foreign substance potential
Floor areas that are likely to be wet or spilled upon (foyers, restaurants, canteens, kitchens, food factories and process plants of all types), or contain other foreign substances (grease on a garage floor, for example) are potential danger areas for slips and falls.
Loose or torn carpeting, all stair types that are not slip resistant, broken tiles, ramps and parking lot divots are examples of surfaces that create potential tripping hazards.
Ramps, sloping areas, ledges. Steps (three or fewer) and similar surface irregularities can pose a slip/trip hazard. Be aware of such conditions, especially when there is no ‘colour contrast’ to call attention to the change.
Extension cords, furniture, planters, floor displays and parking lot bumpers are examples of obstructions. When located near a common pathway, they have historically contributed to a number of trips and falls, some with serious consequences. Move or eliminate obstructions or highlight or call attention to them with bright paint.
Lighting, glare, and lack of colour contrast are the most common examples of visibility concerns.
Stairs are defined as having more than three steps, up or down. The presence of hand rails (consider both side – and centre – handrails), and overall stairway condition, including height and depth of risers and treads, are factors to take into account when determining the degree of hazard.
Consider the age of customers and associates, as well as shoe types. For example, seniors often have sight and other impairments, and children may tend to run and “horse around”. Are there any hazards at a child’s eye level that an adult would normally see? Consider the type of footwear most commonly worn by people walking the area.
Art work, signs, displays, brooks, bridges and similar “mood” setters are common examples of features that can cause a distraction. Of particular concern are signs and other items on easels.
In conclusion, being mindful of the risk of “Slips and Falls” and using the right preventative materials can avoid a Property Owner a potential law suit or workplace injury.