Clearly a slip accident cannot occur without a human being present. If we start at base principles. I think we would all agree that we can walk on slippery surfaces without slipping. If you were to think of an ice-skating rink, for example, and we lined up 100 people off the street and asked them to walk across that ice skating rink without slipping – what would happen? I would imagine that the vast, vast majority if not all of them could do so, irrespective of the fact that that floor surface is very slippery and would probably achieve a risk factor of one and two. Why is this? It’s because we can self-address to avoid a slip.
There are various ways we, as humans, can reduce our own risk of having a slip and fall. We might feel as if we’re about to slip but change our balance to avoid it. If we understand that a floor surface is inherently more slippery, we will change our gait (the way we walk). If you walk across a very slippery floor in a normal way, compared to if you did so like a Romain Centurion in a flat footed march, compared to if you shuffled very slowly and hardly lifted your feet off the surface, you’d have different levels of risk.
So, humans in most cases can walk on slippery surfaces without suffering a fall.
So why might slips happen from a human perspective? Essentially because we weren’t aware or expecting the slipperiness of the floor surface. Two good analogies for this:
- Walking up to an escalator. We do this on autopilot, as we do most of our functional movements throughout every day of our lives. You’ll have been on thousands of escalators over the years so you know what to expect: you know that you’re going to walk up to the escalator, the floor surface will be moving, and you’ll be subconsciously compensating for that as you approach the escalator. Therefore, you’ll step onto it with no issue whatsoever and you’ll ride up to the top. And once you get to the top, exactly the same thing will happen: you’ll be subconsciously thinking about the fact that you’re going to be transitioning from a moving surface to a stationary one, therefore your body will compensate its balance and muscle movements for that. However, what happens if, just as you step onto the escalator, it stops? All of a sudden you end up on your bottom (hopefully not hurt but just a bit embarrassed) because something changed that you weren’t expecting. Slip accidents are often a result of the person who slipped not being aware that they were likely to slip.
- In the leisure sector we all know that poolsides are wet environments so we subconsciously take more case. Showers are the same. But when we transition into the changing rooms, something in our minds switches off and we expect the floor to be dry and not slippery. Yet, these environments are just as likely to be wet or contaminated as poolsides and showers. Therefore we see a lot more accidents in changing rooms than on poolsides, even though you’d expect the opposite. It’s the human factors that drive this.
We see a lot of accidents happening in areas where you move from one type of floor surface to another. For example, entrances to buildings where you might be walking from a paving slab onto an entrance mat then onto a smooth marble floor: we’ve got three levels of friction there and that’s where sometimes accidents can happen. Try to have a consistency of slip resistance on your floor surfaces, particularly in cases where the floors look similar.
If you are walking on a floor your subconsciously adjust your gait to deal with that floor, once you take your step onto the next floor, you won’t necessarily have known that the slip resistance if different and so your compensation could be totally wrong. This could be down to two similar looking floors with different grip, or some contamination that we cannot see.
There’s an interesting debate around signage, which we’ll get into elsewhere…
Another factor to consider is distraction. If a person is distracted for whatever reason and therefore they’re not necessarily looking where they’re going, they’re unlikely to see a hazard and that’s where a slip may occur. Whether or not they’re able to address that slip and self-correct to stop the slip from turning into a fall comes down to luck.
So what might distractions mean? If you spend any time on the streets of London where I live, you’ll see the majority of people walking up and down the pavement with their eyes glued to their smartphones. That’s a form of distraction that may lead to somebody having an accident that they otherwise might not. Now, it’s hard for you as a business owner to control that when it comes to members of the public. But there are other types of distraction that you may well be able to control: flashing lights, billboards… even loud noise can even be a distraction if you imagine entering into a building where you’ve gone from a quiet on the outside to where to a very loud noise on the inside that can be disconcerting and disruptive to your equilibrium. Think about things that could distract people from noticing the potential of a hazard that consider what you could do to try to reduce or eliminate that and as much as possible.
Other distractions could include people talking to colleagues or friends, music or other noises, bright lights etc. So there are lots of things that maybe aren’t within your control.
When it comes to staff, it is likely possible to do more to mitigate the risk of distraction than with members of the public. In a retail environment where people are moving around items and restocking shelves, can we think about how they might be distracted by other members of staff, by advertising, by music, by all sorts of other things that could be attracting their attention at that point in time where they may well just need it to avoid an accident from taking place?
We have a different requirement for friction when undertaking certain activities. If we are walking at a normal pace in a straight line on a flat surface, that requires a certain level of friction to enable us not to slip. However, some variables mean we require a much higher level of friction, including:
- A gradient on the surface
- If we’re pushing something
- If we’re pulling something
- If we’re carrying items
- If we’re not walking in a straight line; we’re twisting or turning
All of these mean that we now require a much greater level of friction in order to maintain the same level of risk.
This aspect of the individual safety is in many ways, predominantly concerning the design and construction phase of buildings. Nonetheless, there are things that can be done to reduce risk in an operational sense. Take for example, a commercial kitchen: could we dictate the operations of that kitchen in such a way that staff are not turning around corners, but walking in a more linear fashion? Could we change the way we work so that staff are not needing to push or pull items? Could we reduce the weight of things that are being carried? There are all sorts of ways we can affect the extent to which an individual requires a certain level of friction. By reducing these risks, we will see fewer accidents, taking place over time.