Slips and falls are accidents that can be generally be prevented with appropriate safe systems of work and careful management. However, it is possible for very significant and costly injuries to occur without adequate consideration.
A recent case involved a chef that slipped over due to unsuitable floor surfaces and debris on the kitchen floor. He suffered severe burns on his arms, hands and face when he reached out to regain his balance, but instead plunged his arm into boiling hot oil. The chef had to have surgery and spent five months off work.
An investigation into the incident discovered that there was an issue with water collecting on the floor around the dishwasher, steamers and vegetable prep area; there was also an issue with the flooring being unsuitable for the kitchen environment – it was confirmed that these problems had been regularly highlighted by the staff, yet the employer had done nothing to rectify the situation.
They were taken to court and fined £14,000 and had to pay costs of £2,000.
Another example of a preventable accident was when a kitchen worker fractured her skull after slipping on the unsuitable flooring in the kitchen where she worked, hitting her head hard on the tiled floor. She was rushed to hospital where she had to spend a period of time in the high dependency unit, due to the severity of her injury. An investigation into the incident discovered that there had previously been a number of slips within the kitchen area and the response from the employers was to put down some matting that itself was susceptible to getting wet and becoming slippery, thus providing very little protection. The leading investigator served the employers with an Improvement Notice and, after exploring various options, they replaced the floor surface with one that was confirmed to provide adequate levels of grip in wet conditions.
In accordance with the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, an employer has a legal duty to do all that is reasonably practicable to protect their employees and others whilst operating within the course of their employment. This is expanded in the Management Regulations 1999 to ensure work activities are appropriately risk assessed to minimise the risk of harm. Therefore, the employer will be held accountable for any and all accidents, such as those described the above, in the absence of evidence to suggest that reasonable precautions were taken to minimise the risk of an accident occurring.
An appropriate risk identification and management process is necessary to minimise the likelihood of an accident occurring and to protect the business from legal or financial implications that may result from such an accident; this includes a robust hazard identification process, risk reduction strategies and ongoing monitoring of control measures.