What are the obstacles to workplace safety?

Slips, trips and falls at work are collectively the single most common cause of injury in UK workplaces. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) stats for Great Britain for 2012/13 show that there were an estimated 5.2 million working days lost due to workplace injury, and many of those will be slips, trips and falls.

A simple trip or fall at work may be considered as a minor problem to many supervisors and managers – but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Whether you work in a depot, warehouse, factory or office, it’s important to remember that every site is brimming with potential slip and trip hazards. It could be a spillage, a wet or uneven floor, or cleaning equipment and cables left lying around.

According to the HSE, the majority of trips are caused by obstructions in walkways, while the rest are caused by uneven surfaces. The good news is that preventing these accidents is often simple and cost-effective.

The steps to take

Essentially, employers have to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the absence of risk to the safety and health of workers and others affected by their undertakings. There are certain basic principles that, if implemented effectively, enable organisations to achieve this.
Firstly, have a system in place to manage health and safety. You need to be able to show how you plan, organise, control, monitor and review preventative measures, and you need a competent person to help you understand and respond appropriately to your legal duties.
Your main hazards (things that could cause harm) should be identified, and risk should be assessed to make sure your risk control measures are adequate and that they are used and maintained. Safety measures have to be sensible and balanced. You do not need to go over the top. But if necessary, put in place back-up measures such as emergency procedures. Inform, train and supervise employees.
Do certain things consistently like: consulting your workforce; conducting regular health and safety checks; reporting, recording and investigating accidents and near-misses; and providing employees and others with certain basic information. Also make sure you have provided suitable first aid and welfare facilities and have employers’ liability insurance, and make time periodically to review performance and then feed back any lessons learned to improve controls and management arrangements.
A risk assessment will help you identify the slip and trip hazards that exist in your workplace and their potential for causing people to slip or trip. The assessment should also have given you some ideas for how to prevent these accidents. Remember, you cannot eliminate all risks – you need to implement control measures that are proportionate to the risk in question and a good approach to health and safety balances control measures sensibly against other needs.

As we saw earlier, people tripping over obstructions on the floor is also a common cause of accidents. Therefore, something as simple as good housekeeping – for example, making sure walkways are kept clear and keeping an eye out for trailing wires – could prevent many accidents.

Changing culture
As with health and safety in general, continuous improvement in preventing slips, trips and falls cannot be achieved by one-off interventions such as a single memo requesting that spilt drinks are mopped up quickly. Prevention strategies have to be bedded in deeper than this so they are sustainable.
Therefore, before you start hunting for hazards, assessing risks and reviewing your precautions, make sure you have a robust ‘system’ – the policies, people and procedures – in place for managing health and safety on an on-going basis. Underpinning such a system should be a positive safety culture, encompassing everyone from board-level directors and on-site managers, supervisors and team leaders to the frontline workforce – employees or contractors.

Working together to develop a good health and safety culture has to be a team effort, with ownership and commitment to safety built throughout the workforce. What sets a safety conscious company apart is having employees with trained eyes to spot these hazards, and prevent the hundreds of major injury accidents caused by slips and trips every year. Good reporting of near-miss slips and falls can make a huge difference, as they help you build up a picture of where problems are happening so you can then decide what to do next to prevent them.
The vast majority of accidents and ill health can be prevented by good health and safety management. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 requires employers to ensure the health and safety of all employees and anyone affected by their work, so far as is reasonably practicable, which means balancing the level of risk against the measures needed to control the risk in terms of money, time or trouble. This includes taking steps to control slip and trip risks.

At RoSPA, we know that risk assessment is a lynchpin of health and safety management and our courses emphasise the simple and cheap measures every company can take to protect the workforce, while also complying with the law. In this case, developing a slip and trip map of your premises is a good way to target problem areas and understand what may be causing these accidents.
The last thing an organisation needs is an accident that could keep a key employee off, or bring adverse publicity when competition is stiff, so the focus should always be on preventing serious injuries connected with work activities.
After all, safe and healthy working is the foundation upon which everything else in business is built – not just because it is the morally correct way for businesses to work, but because it is also the most cost-effective and efficient.
The majority of organisations are also unaware of how much they are actually losing due to safety failures, or how much could be lost if their controls fail. Many are also unaware how much they need to spend to demonstrate reasonably practicable (strategic or operational) compliance. So, do yourself a favour and get in-step with this issue before it costs your company in sickness, lost time, higher insurance premiums and, ultimately, profit.

Further information