A recent case in Scotland highlights the importance of proactive slip testing plus choosing and maintaining the right level of slip resistance on your floors.
“The recent decision of the Scottish Specialist Sheriff Personal Injury Court in Lowe v Cairnstar shows the importance of taking preventative action to avoid slip accidents.” (Brodies LLP – a leading Scottish law firm)
A lady slipped and fell in a nightclub’s toilet, fracturing her ankle. She said, as did an eyewitness, that the floor was wet.
Although the defendant business disputed that the floor was wet, it was deemed by the court that their inspection regime, being irregular, was insufficient to disprove the fact.
My experience is that it’s incredibly very rare to go into a washroom in any commercial building and find a toilet floor that is bone dry. Given only the smallest amount of liquid is required on a floor to produce a slip, these areas clearly present a high risk of slip and, as such, HSE would expect the floor surface to have a low potential for slip.
A pendulum slip test had been undertaken and was presented to the court. This showed that the floor tiles in the washroom concerned had a high slip potential when wet.
Based on this, the court found in favour of the claimant.
“The Sheriff was not convinced that that even if a better system of inspection was in place that it would have been a sufficient precaution against the tiles becoming wet and therefore slippery given the PTV readings. In this case, it was held that reasonable inspection system would not have discharged the duty of reasonable care. As such, the Sheriff concluded that the defenders could, and should, have installed flooring which had the recommended PTV. This coupled with a proper system of inspection may have resulted in a different outcome for the defender.” (Brodies LLP)
It’s important to note that the court expected both a robust inspection regime and a safe-when-wet floor.
Almost all companies have a monitoring regime for their washroom floors, but how many of them have scientific, HSE-approved proof of how safe their floors are when wet? My experience tells me that the answer is very few.
Without knowing, scientifically, that you have a safe-when-wet floor and are keeping it that way through your maintenance, you are leaving yourself open to accidents, people getting hurt, and successful claims against you.
Remember, though, choosing not to get a slip test because “if I don’t know my floor is slippery, I won’t need to do anything about it” will not help you: nowadays any savvy claimant solicitor will commission a test as part of any case, and ignorance is no defence – in fact you may have a lower chance by trying to plead ignorance.
Challenges with slip safety in washrooms that we’ve seen
Having tested the slip resistance of countless washroom floors over the past decade, the vast majority do not achieve a PTV of 36+ when wet. As such, they fail to pass the HSE benchmark for low slip potential.
Often, particularly in high-end hotels, restaurants and offices, these washrooms are designed as if they were dry. Clearly, as this case shows only too well, they are not.
The lack of CCTV is another issue. Whilst in a restaurant’s front-of-house areas CCTV may be helpful in defending a claim,
What should you do?
Firstly, you should get a slip test conducted on your washroom floors to understand where you currently sit vs the HSE benchmark.
Next, if your floors are below PTV 36 when wet, you should seek to either replace the floor for a surface that is, or you could use an anti-slip treatment to improve the existing floor. This is likely to be quicker, cheaper and less disruptive. On floors chosen for their aesthetics, treatment is realistically the only way to maintain that aesthetic but also achieve the required safety levels.
Third, whether you have a slip-resistant floor or improve your existing floor to be slip-resistant, you must maintain this level and prove this through regular monitoring. The insurers and lawyers we partner with tend to suggest having a slip test at least every 12 months.
The same advice holds true for other foreseeable wet areas: from external floors to poolsides, changing rooms, hotel bathrooms and kitchens. You can check out what slip resistance ratings your floors should have in different areas of a building by using our Floor Slip Safety Specification Guide.