There have been no available statistics on slip-and-fall claims published since the previous time we ran this feature, when the SA Compensation Commissioner claims revealed 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 number of claims in recent years have averaged around 220 000 per annum.
The South African courts have found that the law does not require a shopper in a store to examine the shop floor or to decide whether his/her footing would be safe for each step made, and that a shopper is entitled to move about freely while focusing on the shelves and the products on offer.
That being said, proving liability on the part of the property owner is not necessarily straightforward and a number of factors need to be taken into account. The crux of a successful slip-and-fall claim depends on whether the plaintiff (injured party) has proven that his negligence did not exceed that of the defendant (owner) and that there is thus cause for a claim.
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 or trip, cases turn on whether the property owner acted carefully so that slipping or tripping was not likely to happen – and whether the victim was careless in not seeing or avoiding the cause of the accident.
In the USA, the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) confirms virtually the same statistics as last year – that slip-and-fall accidents account for over 15% of all accidental deaths, and the cost of slip injuries exceeds US $100-billion each year. Incredibly, around 30 000 people are killed every year in the USA by unintentional home injuries, and of these about 11 000 are related to slips and falls.
To assist in reducing the volumes of slip-and-fall injuries and deaths in the USA, the National Floor Safety Institute was founded in 1997 as a not-for-profit organisation whose mission is to aid in the prevention of these events through education, research, and standards development.
Research, based in part on insurance industry claims data, has revealed five major causes responsible for almost all slips, trips and falls. Although the actual percentages may vary from one industry to another, the following five causes have been well documented across different industry groups, environmental conditions, and geographies.
Although the walking surface is most likely to be identified as the primary cause of a slip, trip-and-fall accident, comprising 55% of all falls, the remaining 45% are attributable to four other factors, including footwear, fraud, hazard identification, and training. Therefore, a property owner’s slip-and-fall prevention strategy should focus on a comprehensive approach that addresses all causes, especially the floors of this premises.
Despite the fact that the USA (and its population) is much larger than South Africa, the percentages contained in slip-and-fall facts that are available must have some relevance to those in this country, so it is worth taking a look at their current experience.
Fall fatalities are nearly equally divided between men and women. However, more women will experience a slip-and-fall accident. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, falls accounted for 5% of the job-related fatalities for women compared to 11% for men.
Falls account for over 8 million hospital emergency-room visits, representing the leading cause of visits (21.3%). Slips and falls account for over 1 million visits, or 12% of total falls, and fractures are the most serious consequences of falls, and occur in 5% of all people who fall. In addition, slips and falls do not constitute a primary cause of fatal occupational injuries, but represent the primary cause of lost days from work, and are the leading cause of workers’ compensation claims.
85% of workers’ compensation claims are attributed to employees slipping on slick floors (Industrial Safety & Occupational Health Markets 5th edition)
According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), floors and flooring materials contribute directly to more than 2 million fall injuries each year, and half of all accidental deaths in the home are caused by a fall. Most fall injuries in the home happen at ground level, not from an elevation.
Good housekeeping is the first and the most important level of preventing falls due to slips and trips, and in this article we have allocated a column to a brief good housekeeping guide.
So, what role can the floors play? If a carpet is installed and maintained properly it should provide a perfectly safe walking surface and is ideal for cushioning footsteps, reducing slips and falls and minimising injury when falls do occur.
The use of a quality underlay for wall-to-wall carpeting is essential for the performance and longevity of the carpet, but also assists in providing a softer landing for those that fall. Carpet tiles almost fit into the same category. Where small loose-lay carpets and rugs are used in rooms, people need to take special care though – particularly in bathrooms.
The treatments to prevent slipping on hard floors will vary in accordance with the type of flooring material. Wood, bamboo and laminate flooring will require different treatments from those used on ceramic and porcelain tiles, natural stone, concrete, linoleum and vinyl flooring, and it is advisable to contact the flooring manufacturer or your supplier to ascertain what is available and likely to be the most effective for your application.
Many floorcovering manufacturers market products that have been specifically designed to incorporate a high level of safety and anti-slip, and this is a regular feature found in the ceramic, porcelain and vinyl sectors.
Chemical etching can be professionally applied to marble, granite, ceramic and porcelain tiles, and concrete floors can have microscopic ridges and valleys in the floor to increase surface roughness.
Etching produces a higher coefficient of friction with most shoe sole materials and bare feet, and is commonly employed to improve the slip resistance of tiles used in showers and bath areas.
Types of slip-resistant floors that can be considered include brushed concrete, sheet vinyl with abrasive material, and seamless epoxy or urethane with surface aggregate.
There is no doubt that good housekeeping is the first line of defence against slips and trips, but before you make a decision on purchasing or specifying a floor for a new building or for a refurbishment, take the advice of the flooring manufacturer or supplier to determine what is available and potentially the most effective for your application.
GENERAL GOOD HOUSEKEEPING PROCEDURES FOR PUBLIC AREAS
- Clean up spills immediately. For greasy liquids, use a suitable cleaning agent.
- Do not leave floors wet after cleaning – clean them to a completely dry finish if possible. If “clean-to-dry” is not possible, then use barriers and ‘wet floor’ warning signs to keep people off the wet area.
- Use cleaning methods that do not spread the problem. Small spills are often better dealt with using a paper towel instead of a mop that wets a larger area of floor.
- Do not use cardboard to soak up spills.
- Floors, platforms and walkways must be maintained in good repair, and reasonably free of oil, grease, or water. Mats, grates, or other methods that provide equivalent protection must be used on areas where operation requires walking on slippery surfaces.
- Slip-resistant floor coatings should be used in areas that are likely to get wet or subjected to frequent spills.
- Slip hazards must be identified and removed promptly.
- Warning signs or other equally effective means (barricades) should be used as a warning system in areas where a slip hazard is present.
- Platforms and walkways must be free of obstructions and dangerous projections (e.g. extension cords, power cables, hoses, carts, boxes, debris).
- Position equipment to avoid cables crossing pedestrian routes; use cable covers securely fixed to surfaces, or consider use of cordless tools.
- Surfaces in poor repair (e.g. holes, surface upheaval, broken tiles) must be repaired or guarded by readily visible barricades, rails or other equally effective means.
- Ensure floor mats and rugs are securely fixed and do not have curling edges.
Acknowledgement and thanks are given to the following for information obtained and used in the compilation of this article: www.slipnomore.net; www.cidb.org.za; www.sheqafrica.com; www.osha.gov; www.nfsi.org www.labourguide.co.za.