As long as humans walk around on two legs, there will always be the potential for slip, trip, and fall accidents. Indeed, some of our culture’s biggest laughs are garnered from comedy movies, YouTube virals, and clips from America’s Funniest Home Videos showing random people falling on their butts. However, BSCs know that the consequences of a serious slip and fall is no laughing matter, especially if the accident could have been easily prevented.
Because BSCs are charged with the cleaning and maintenance of buildings and other built environments, they are directly responsible for ensuring the safety of anyone visiting these spaces. And slips, trips, and falls (STFs) are among the most common breaches of this sense of safety. In fact, STFs “constitute the majority of general industry accidents and are the cause of 15 percent of all accidental deaths—second only to motor vehicles as a cause of fatalities,” notes the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that STFs are the leading cause of all workplace injuries and lost work days, accounting for tens of billions of dollars a year in workers’ compensation, medical care, and legal fees. And in many cases, the liability for STFs can rest squarely on the shoulders of BSCs.
"It’s vitally important that BSCs are able to quickly identify all of the potential causes of slip and fall accidents and know how to deal with them in an effective manner."
There are several factors that can contribute to an STF—a wet floor, an obstructed walkway, a poorly maintained stairway, or even just an uneven patch of floor tile—and all of these can end up crippling both the victim and the organization that owns the property. Thus, it’s vitally important that BSCs are able to quickly identify all of the potential causes of slip and fall accidents and know how to deal with them in an effective manner.
One simple way to prevent these accidents is to be aware of the locations where they are most likely to occur. Given this, a BSCs first course of action should be to identify these locations and make sure they receive the proper level of attention in terms of preventative measures.
Slipping and sliding
Slips occur when a person’s footing loses traction with a floor’s surface, and this is usually due to the surface having a low level of friction. Some of the most likely locations for slips include:
• any surface vulnerable to wet or oily spills, and/or moisture buildup
• any surface exposed to extreme weather conditions, such as rain, ice, and snow
• recently cleaned, polished, or waxed walkways
• areas where different types of flooring border one another, such as a spot where a carpeted floor transitions to a hardwood floor
Slips often occur because a spill was not quickly mopped up or because the floor is still wet from cleaning. In either case, before any other measures are taken, there must be some type of notification to building occupants that a slippery surface exists. It’s a good idea to have wet-floor signs, cones, security tape—anything that can be used to cordon off the affected area. That said, a couple of chairs and a handwritten note is better than nothing. This way, if you can’t immediately fix the situation or have to go elsewhere to gather the necessary supplies, occupants will at least have some kind of warninig. To best stay on top of things, make sure your staff is proactive, not reactive. Don’t wait until spills or accidents are reported; make regular rounds of the building and its grounds to seek out areas where slips are likely.
If you have identified the potentially dangerous location(s) and notified occupants, often the only thing you can do (at least for slips)next is to make sure the area gets returned to normal as soon as possible. That means cleaning spills immediately upon discovery and then maintaining that level of cleanliness by regular sweeping, mopping, and vacuuming. This also means allowing for adequate drying times after cleaning or polishing any floors and/or walkways.
But proper slip and fall prevention also requires good management. If you are the head of cleaning crew, make sure there is a clear plan in place for dealing not only with spills, but any other potentially hazardous condition. Be accountable for knowing what needs to be done, who needs to do it, what your standards are, and then communicate that information to your staff—and make sure they comply!
Outside of the obvious, other, slightly more creative measures should also be considered. For example, if you know of an area of flooring where water frequently accumulates, it’s important that you act immediately to not only warm occupants, but also prevent the situation from getting worse. This could be caused by something as seemngly benign as a leaky AC unit or refrigerator.
“Capturing leaks from machinery… before they reach walkways is important,” notes cleaning website New Pig in a section focused on dealing with leaks, drips and spills. “Socks can be used around the bases of machines or containers to stop spills before they reach walkways.”
Of course, slip-resistant floor mats and footwear are also key in preventing STFs. Even if there’s no way to get non-employees to comply, you can at least require your staff to wear proper footwear and use mats when and wherever possible.
Tripping takes place when a person’s foot or feet become obstructed during the normal course of walking. This often happens when they encounter an object unexpectedly, causing them to lose their balance and fall. Identifying areas and objects that are potential causes of a trip and then preventing such accidents seems easy enough, yet people still trip all the time—and not just in slapstick comedies. Here are some leading causes of trips:
• Obstructed walkways and/or work areas
• Uncovered, unmarked cables, cords, wires, and hoses, especially if lying perpendicular to a walkway
• Poorly lit areas, due to defective or insufficient lighting
• Unanchored or loose carpeting, rugs, and mats
Because cleaning crews typically use lots of “gear” to do their jobs, it’s vital that your staff carefully designate and secure their work areas while on the job, especially if you engage in day cleaining. At the same time, they should also clean up any tools and/or equipment once they’ve finished working. When it comes to trips, something as innocous as a misplaced dust pan or bottle of cleaning solution has the potential to cause a serious accident. Moreover, if during the course of cleaning, your crew moves a piece of furniture, unplugs a machine, or otherwise changes the layout of a space in any way, it’s imperative that they return/replace everything as they found it. To ensure you don’t miss anything, always have your staff do a quick walk-through of the building before leaving.
Sometimes it’s what you can’t see that can hurt you the most. Even if a walkway has what seems like sufficient natural lighting, if there is an artificial light source that is malfunctioning, the cleaning and/ or building maintenance crew may be considered negligent should a trip-and-fall accident occur. If such tasks are within your scope of work, make sure to always replace bulbs as soon as they go out as well as repair faulty light fixtures and switches. Indeed, even if these tasks aren’t your responsibility, BSCs and their staff should always be on the lookout for such situations and report them to the proper entities as soon as they are discovered. After all, you never know when you or you staff might miss something that is your responsibility, so by practicng the Golden Rule here, you can encourage all parties to make safety a true “team” effort. Although floor mats are an effective safeguard against slippery surfaces, they can actually become a hazard if not installed and/or monitored properly. Proper mat placement is crucial, and there are a variety of anchor systems designed to help ensure that the mats stay smooth, even, and where they belong. As well, be sure to regularly maintain and clean floor mats, so that they can offer the most effective protection possible.
Safe, not sorry
Nobody wants to see someone get hurt from a slip, trip, or fall. But due to human nature, it’s inevitable that some accidents will eventually happen. Since BSCs are on the frontlines when it comes to building maintenance and safety, it’s our responsibility to do everything you can to help prevent such occurences. What’s more, by developing and adhering to proactive safety measures such as these, you’ll also go a long way toward preventing yourself from falling into a potentially disastorus lawsuit.
Scott Saier is a freelance writer who frequently contributes content to the comerical cleaning/BSC industry.