In 2017, national retailer Co-Op were fined £400,000 due to a slip accident which lead to a man’s death.
Stanley May a local 74-year-old, slipped over on a pool of water in an aisle of the Truro store in July 2015, banging the back of his head, and passed away as a result.
The liquid on the floor was the result of a broken sandwich chiller. It had been broken, then apparently fixed, but had begun to leak once more. This had been the case for several hours before the fatal slip accident occurred.
I was personally involved in this case, visiting the store to undertake slip testing as part of the investigation after the accident. It was certainly an eerie feeling to be looking at a floor area where a person has recently died.
This accident occurred in the middle of the store, not near the entrance where it would be much more foreseeable that the floor would be wet. As such, the wet slip resistance of the floor was less relevant here than it might have been had the accident occurred directly inside the store entrance.
In court, Cornwall Council said:
“Engineers had been called to repair the chiller the day prior to the accident and it appeared to have been repaired effectively, however, it had continued to leak and on the day in question the leaking chiller had not been reported as a maintenance issue and the only control method was a wet floor sign.”
Judge Simon Carr said what happened was:
”So easily avoidable”.
”The company tried to address the problem but did so inadequately.”
After the case, Cornwall Council commented:
“This case should serve as a warning to the retail industry, and particularly supermarkets, that signage alone is not an adequate control. Protective measures must be taken to either prevent floors becoming slippery or precluding public access.”
The £400,000 fine paid was half of the judge’s recommended amount – it was reduced by 50% because Co-Op had pleaded guilty early in the prosecution.
There are all sorts of lessons to be learned from this incident, but in particular I would highlight the fact that you cannot and must not simply rely on a yellow sign.
Yes, a sign might warn someone that the floor is wet, but as this case shows it’s not likely to help you in court. If a floor is wet it should either be closed off from use until it is dry, or should be designed and maintained such that it is safe when wet.
It is possible – contrary to popular belief – to have floors that are safe-when-wet. Indeed, that’s exactly what we do!