Slips and trips in the workplace are estimated to set Australian businesses back over $48 million in direct costs each year, and yet the falls just keep on coming.
According to the most recent Australian Bureau of Statistics figures of the 640,700 people who experienced a work-related injury or illness each year, 13 per cent of them sustained their injury as a result of a slip, trip or fall.
In other words, over 84 thousand people each year are getting hurt, claiming compensation, or otherwise becoming a lost-time injury statistic because companies are not taking some simple measures to protect themselves, and their bottom lines, against slips, trips and falls.
While it may seem astonishing, according to Philip Zagni, owner of Floorsafe International, the reason people don’t take anti-slip measures more seriously is down to what he calls "car battery syndrome", in other words doing nothing about the potential for a problem, despite warning signs, until the battery is dead and the car won’t start. Or in this case, until someone has actually slipped or tripped.
"Once a slip or fall happens people have to react to it, but for all that we say prevention is better than cure, people still aren’t being proactive enough," Zagni said.
"Once an accident happens if you can prove that you’ve taken actions to prevent slips and falls then you are fine, but if you haven’t you have a problem."
Zagni said legislation was now forcing employers and property owners to address the issue, with the introduction of laws around the application of stair treads for example in new buildings.
Quite apart from employers’ duty of care, as good a reason as any to take the safety of your staff seriously is the enormous direct costs involved, estimated at around $19,000 per incident.
Nor should an employer assume workers’ compensation insurance is going to have them covered. According to Zagni, only a small proportion of the costs are covered under insurance as it doesn’t take into account indirect costs.
Think of the time taken to process and manage the injury, increased workload on other staff, the loss of expertise and skills, additional training for replacement staff, decreased productivity, not to mention the human element of pain and suffering, and you start to see a fuller picture of the real costs involved.
Zagni told IndustrySearch the most common causes of slips and falls were the obvious – steps and stairways, and slippery internal and external floor surfaces.
Zagni said accidents tended to occur when there was either an unobserved obstacle, the individual is unaware of the potential hazard, on wet or poorly maintained floor surfaces, or on unseen step edges.
"Slip resistant flooring and anti-slip treatments should be used…especially on floor surfaces that are subjected to wetness," Zagni said.
"Stairways should have handrails and steps should have anti-slip nosings. The leading edge of each step should also be highlighted and in today’s world even glow in the dark products are available for steps and handrails."
Zagni said anti-slip solutions were now common place, and as such there really was no excuse for the continuing high levels of accidents occurring.
While you may think it impossible to guarantee a 100% slip-proof workplace, Zagni says otherwise, and believes with a thorough risk assessment and regular audits, a company could go a long way to eliminating slips, trips and falls.
"For sure it’s possible (to have a slip-free workplace)," Zagni said.
Perhaps then a zero lost time injury rate would be bad for business for Floorsafe, but Zagni is a realist.
"We’ve been around a long time and we are in the safety business, we will always be needed, but the number of slip and fall incidents needs to be addressed to reduce the statistics, people need to act now."