Slip risks in retail

Retail is the industry that is most affected by slips and trips. Douglas Barnett, Head of Mid Market and Customer Risk Management at AXA Insurance, analyses the most recent trends and shares some best-practice advice.

Douglas Barnett, Head of Mid Market and Customer Risk Management in Guest blog

24 January 2019

High-street shops are struggling to keep up with online competition; even household names have been closing stores. Slips and trips are a less well-known risk and yet, retail is the most affected industry, involving customers and employees alike, and imposing downtime when an incident occurs.

This type of accident is the most reported injury to members of the public, according to the UK’s Health and Safety Executive. And the volume of claims, from both customers and workers, remains stubbornly high.

In industrialised countries, while the overall number of work-related injuries has declined, the proportion of slips, trips and falls has increased. In the European Union, they constitute the biggest class of workplace accidents. And in the US, they cause 15% of all accidental deaths.

In the UK, 31% of non-fatal employee injuries were slips and trips in 2017-2018, far ahead of handling, lifting or carrying (21%), according to the HSE.

For AXA UK, slips alone are the costliest type of health and safety claims, totalling £80m a year. For comparison, manual handling injuries amount to £30m in claims.

As slips and trips are most likely to occur in places with high footfall, like shopping centres, retail is the most affected sector, followed by hospitality and leisure.

To cover slip risks, businesses need employers’ liability insurance and public liability insurance, called respectively workers’ compensation insurance and general liability insurance in the US. The former is compulsory, the latter is highly recommended.

But slips could – and should – be prevented. That is where risk management practices come into play, focusing on the causes of slips: floors, shoes and cleaning methods.

Some surfaces are more slippery than others. Marble and wooden floors are well-known for that, but concrete and ceramic tiles are just as treacherous. Flooring manufacturers provide a slip coefficient, which indicates how slippery each surface is. When working on a new building, architects and designers can choose floorings with safe low slip ratings.

To assess risks in older buildings, owners or managers should have a slip test company conduct a survey. These service providers use a pendulum test to measure a floor’s coefficient of friction. A swinging, imitation heel sweeps over a set area of flooring. A test value close to zero means the floor is very slippery, while a value of 36 and over indicates it is safe.

Based on the results, practical measures can be taken to reduce risks, changing the surface being a last resort. Those measures depend on where the risk comes from.

Very often, the floor is made slippery by outside factors. If it is water being brought in by people’s shoes, an easy fix is to place absorbent mats at the entrance, which will take water off the soles. The mats need to be changed when they become saturated.

In child-friendly restaurants, where food and drink are bound to be spilled, cleaning must be up to scratch. In particular, the floor mustn’t be left wet, but must be mopped dry.

In restaurant kitchens, where splashed oil makes floors greasy, staff need specialist footwear.

If waiters move between the kitchen and the dining hall, contaminating that area, normal cleaning will not remove the risk. It will require a deep clean, to be carried out periodically.

The cleaning regime must be even more robust in showers, toilets, swimming pools and gyms, everywhere people use soap, gel and shampoo, in addition to water. Those hygiene products create a build-up that will make surfaces slippery.

Whether in shops, hotels, restaurants or leisure centres, if floors are chosen wisely and cleaned correctly, and employees are wearing the right shoes for their job, risks are reduced.

When a slip does occur, it should be logged. If a trend is identified, it will point to a problem that needs to be fixed. Well-kept records will also help disprove fraudulent claims, even more so where CCTV is in place.

Slip claims have remained doggedly high but best risk management practice can change that. What is required is a well-grounded strategy.

This article first appeared in Corporate Risk and Insurance.