With winter weather comes a heightened risk for slips, trips, and falls in your facility. These incidents can happen year-round, but snow, ice, and slush can raise the risks for building occupants and guests.
“I would contend that well over 80% of our claim counts for commercial or industrial properties are related to a slip, trip, and fall incident, though it doesn’t equate to 80% of our claims dollars,” says Brian Gerritsen, senior director of casualty product management/general liability for Fireman’s Fund Insurance Company. “You’d be surprised how many claims we see where a spill of water went unnoticed by the facilities manager or maintenance crew and someone slipped on it.”
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Sources of Slips, Trips, and Falls
The best defense against claims is making sure accidents never happen in the first place. Common causes include:
Uneven or cluttered walkways: The mats you use to prevent slips on smooth floors can become a trip hazard if they curl or buckle, says Russell Kendzior, president of the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI), a not-for-profit organization dedicated to preventing slips and falls through education, research, and standards development. Chipped or elevated tiles also present a problem, as do cracked or uneven sidewalks and parking lots.
Stairs and steps: Stairs without railings are accidents waiting to happen, and the lack of railings means there’s no way to stop a fall in progress, says Kendzior, who has served as an expert witness in over 500 slip, trip, and fall cases. Areas with just one or two steps, like elevated or lowered dining areas in restaurants, can also cause trips if the small steps aren’t clearly visible.
“If there is a step down, put a sign there that says ‘Warning: Step Down,’” advises Beth Milito, senior executive counsel for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), an advocacy organization for small and independently-owned businesses. “Putting mats on different steps keeps the steps from blending together, so the eyes register the need to step down. Generally, mark wherever there are steps or uneven surfaces.”
Poorly calibrated elevators: “If an elevator is not calibrated perfectly, when the door opens there may be a lip between the elevator and the floor level. The tenant or guest may not see that and could trip and fall coming out of the elevator,” notes Gerritsen. “Believe it or not, sometimes elevator doors open and there’s no elevator. That falls under shock claims or losses – things we don’t see very often, but when we do, they’re large payouts.”
Slippery surfaces: Whether the cause is inclement weather, a spill, or simply the wrong type of flooring for the application, poor traction is a common cause of falls. Simply putting out a “wet floor” sign during a storm or after mopping won’t cut it, Kendzior says.
Consider mats or runners to catch tracked-in moisture. However, a saturated mat can become a slip hazard too, so be vigilant.
“A lot of property owners think ‘I put the wet floor sign out, so I did my due diligence.’ Wet floor signs are a temporary solution and they’re only to be put out while the problem is remediated,” Kendzior explains. “Put in the right type of floor or make sure it does not remain wet.”
In some cases, the flooring itself might be the problem, Kendzior adds. A surface like marble or terrazzo that becomes extremely slippery when wet isn’t the best choice for a building entrance, for example. Switching to a cleaning product that’s NFSI-certified to increase the coefficient of friction can help cut down on the likelihood of falls, as can a partial flooring replacement if that’s an option.
“I’m a big proponent of walkoff tile – it’s carpet, so you don’t have to worry about the mat coupling, cracking, or moving,” says Kendzior. “ANSI B101.6 for floor entranceway mats outlines the proper choices, selection, maintenance, and inspection to make sure you use the mat the right way.”
Also beware of factors that can contribute to the likelihood of an accident occurring or add to its severity, such as inadequate lighting that makes it hard to see two steps leading up to an elevated dining area, Gerritsen says.