Mark Wingett offers some advice on how to avoid slips and trips in your store.

Every hour, someone in Britain breaks a bone at work, and each year two people die from tripping over. When it comes to accidents in the workplace, it seems we can’t be too careful.

A survey by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has found that workplace accidents cost the UK economy about £800m a year. Of that, £500m is directly borne by businesses.

Add to this the fact that we live in an increasingly compensation-obsessed society and it’s clear that retailers need to be on the ball and find out exactly what health and safety measures they should be taking.

The HSE research shows that slips and falls are the biggest causes of workplace injuries in the retail sector. Last year 4,435 incidents were reported but, most worryingly, two-thirds of retail workers were unaware of the risks.

HSE acting chief executive Justin McCracken says: “Given that one in four of the retail and wholesale employees surveyed has suffered an injury from a slip or trip at work and 20% were off work for one to three days, the extent of the problem is plain to see.”

The survey reveals that the three most common causes of workplace falls in the retail and wholesale sector are: tripping on a step (26%); slipping on a wet floor (23%); and tripping over an object on the floor (16%).

McCracken believes that retail outlets could be made a lot safer for staff and customers with little or no cost to businesses. “There really needs to be increased awareness about the severity of the problem so that the risks are treated seriously and incidents are prevented before it’s too late,” he says. “Our message is clear – don’t just see a problem, sort it.”

In fact, employers have a legal duty to identify risks and introduce measures to prevent accidents. They also have a duty to inform staff about any risks and tell them about the systems in place for controlling them.

Shopworkers’ union Usdaw and the Association of Convenience Stores can both provide handbooks, signage and leaflets for retailers and their staff, detailing the health and safety implications of accidents in-store.

Usdaw health and safety officer Doug Russell says: “Slips and trips can cause serious injury or even death. The law says that all floors should have suitable surfaces, should be free of holes, obstructions or other slipping or tripping hazards, and should be kept clean. By using safety handbooks retailers should be able to run through a checklist of measures and procedures to ensure their store is safe.”

Usdaw’s website (www.usdaw.org.uk) has a list of questions retailers should ask themselves when checking that their stores are safe. These include: are all floors reasonably flat and level? Are all carpets/tiles sound and well maintained? Is there a reliable system for reporting and clearing up spillages, or a regular cleaning schedule for all areas of the store? And are all aisles and passageways kept free from obstructions?

Russell continues: “With all these checks made retailers can avoid mishaps, but if an incident unfortunately does happen there are legal helplines or websites that retailers can contact to see where they stand if compensation later becomes an issue.”

The HSE survey, which is part of its Better Business campaign, highlights the financial burden on employers who fail to carry out proper health and safety checks. Up to 600,000 people were injured or became ill because of work last year, costing their employers an average of about £1,200 each time, which for small businesses would make a big dent in profits.

Health and Safety Commissioner for Small Businesses Judith Donovan says: “It’s easy to overlook or neglect health and safety measures but in fact preventive measures can benefit businesses financially by averting incidents and the associated workplace costs that follow. Health and safety measures are always in the interest of the business, as they contribute to protecting staff and customers, productivity and, ultimately, the bottom line.”

Even when you have taken all the necessary steps to prevent a slip or fall, accidents can happen, and although retailers can get advice on how to prevent slips and falls it is up to each store owner to deal with them.

According to Terry Harvey, who manages a Spar Store in Thornbury Park, Plymouth, Devon, a common sense approach is needed. “Obviously, you try to prevent anything happening to staff and customers but if something does come up you have to be prepared to deal with it. This can range from having a chair for people to sit on when they’re feeling faint, to providing a glass of water or, in the worse case scenario, calling for medical assistance.

“We have a listof helpful telephone numbers available that staff can ring when they need assistance and some of the staff have been on first aid courses, which, pardon the pun, is handy to fall back on.”

SAFETY FIRST

Watch Your Step is a HSE campaign that aims to reduce the number of falls in the workplace by highlighting the scale of the problem and providing some cost-effective measures that can be taken to prevent accidents at work.
Its website – www.watchyourstep.hse.gov.uk - offers practical advice for both employees and employers to make their working environment safer.

It suggests employers:

Put in place a management system.

Carry out a regular risk assessment.

Make sure they read up on relevant laws and regulations.

It suggests employees take more responsibility in checking their work environment by working through a checklist:

Is there adequate lighting?

Is the floor even and clean?

Be aware of slopes and changes in level – do they need to be marked to prevent falls?

Store cables safely

Remove any obstructions

Clear up spillages immediately

Dispose of waste quickly

Wear suitable footwear

Consider measures for visitors

Follow up your concerns.

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