Companies have a duty of care towards their employees and the law is there to protect them in the event of an accident.
During the winter months, slips and trips at work are more likely to occur, so it is therefore vital that companies take additional precautions to ensure there are no potential hazards caused by wet, icy conditions.
Safeguarding against accidents in the colder months
Employers need to ensure that floors are gritted if they are prone to be slippery when it is frosty and icy. Reception areas may well be at risk, as this is where people first enter a building.
Where there are external walkways, companies may want to consider erecting a cover to keep staff and visitors protected from the elements.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) advises firms to divert pedestrians to areas that are less slippery, or block access to paths that are deemed hazardous.
Employees should always be informed of any changes that have been carried out to walkways, and must be made aware if there are areas that have not been tackled.
Warning cones are another way of alerting employees to potential hazards, although they should be removed once the area is safe, otherwise people will get used to seeing them and will begin to ignore them.
Checking for additional hazards
In addition to hazards caused by the elements, employers and employees must be on the lookout for containments on floors. The Health and Safety executive states “these are involved in almost all slip accidents”.
Rain water, oil and even dust can cause people to lose their footing, particularly if a floor is smooth.
According to the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 (Regulation 12), floors must be “suitable, in good condition and free from obstructions”.
This means that staff should be able to move around safely and carry out their work without risk of injury.
It is also vital for companies to ensure their employees have the correct footwear. This could mean steel toe cap boots for those working on a building site, or protective shoes for people who have to work with contaminants.
Where possible, footwear should also be slip resistant and durable.
Companies can test different makes before they commit to buying a particular type of shoe.
Because slip resistant shoes may become ineffective after a certain period of time, it is vital for companies to have a system whereby they check and replace footwear at regular intervals.
The HSE is keen to remind employers to ask their supplier whether footwear has been tested for slip resistance or not.
If it has gone through an official testing process, it will have a coefficient of friction (CoF) test value. The higher the CoF, the more effective the slip resistance will be.
The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 states that employers must ensure the health and safety of all employees and anyone affected by their work, so far as is reasonably practicable. Assessment of slips and trip risks must form part of these safety precautions.
If accidents are a common occurrence in a workplace, it can be helpful to undertake an examination of incidents to ascertain if there is a pattern involved. Action can then be taken to mitigate the risk of future events.
A recent example of this approach was at an East Anglian food processing and packaging plant where a new safety manager carried out a trend analysis of the company’s accidents.
He concluded that most of the injuries that occurred were as a result of a slip or trip.
As a result of his findings, he introduced training for staff to raise awareness of the dangers of slips and trips in the workplace. In addition, a machine that often caused spillages was moved away from pedestrian traffic.
Risk assessment training was introduced and so-called safe behaviour workshops were conducted. Consultants were brought in to advise on the most appropriate flooring and footwear trials were introduced. Safety inspections were also carried out.