A recent University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine study found that more Americans are dying from fall injuries. Between 1999 and 2005, fall mortality increased 36 percent. Fall mortality increased most in white men over the age of 65. According to the researchers, deaths from falls are second only to those from car crashes, which have the highest mortality rate of all accidents.
This is a serious problem, folks. Slips and falls may be funny in cartoons or on YouTube, but in real life, they can cause serious injuries and even death. My law firm has represented countless clients who were seriously injured in slip and fall injuries.
If you’re a business owner, then you’re liable for injuries on your property caused by negligence. Slips and falls are by far the leading cause of premises liability lawsuits. There are more than a million slip and fall or trip and fall injuries each year. These injuries cause nearly 20,000 unnecessary deaths.
Plaintiffs win more often than defendants in slip and fall cases, and the average median award is well over $100,000 and steadily rising. As the baby boomer generation continues to age, slips and falls will become even more commonplace. Between 2005 and 2020, the number of seniors in the U.S. will increase from 35 million to 77 million, and this is the age group that is most likely to suffer from slip and fall injuries.
Last year CNA insurance company published a tip sheet on slip and fall control techniques for commercial real estate owners. According to the paper, there are five major causes of slip and fall accidents:
1. Lack of slip resistance on walking surfaces
2. Poor walking surface conditions
3. Poor visibility
4. Lack or poor condition of handrails and guardrails
5. Poor accessibility
The CNA report made the following recommendations to reduce the risk of slip and fall injuries:
Select high-traction, slip-resistant flooring materials when building, expanding or remodeling facilities. Installation of such materials with proven high traction characteristics is one of the best ways to avoid slip and fall issues. To a great degree, texture determines a floor’s slip resistance. Smooth floors made of glazed ceramic tile or terrazzo can be dangerously slippery under typical footwear when wet. Other floors with abrasives in their surface or specially textured metal plates can be quite slip resistant, even when wet or contaminated. The best chance of reducing slip-and-fall accidents is during a facility’s design phase when choosing floor materials. Some problem floors can be made safer by surface treatments, but others may need to be replaced or carpeted over, if possible. A good place to start is flooring materials certified by the National Floor Safety Institute (www.nfsi.org).
Know what the “out-of-the-box” slip resistance is on the floor materials in a facility. These numbers provide a baseline when considering changes to cleaning and floor maintenance practices. Have flooring COF audited after installation to confirm slip resistance.
Select floor cleaning and maintenance products with proven slip resistance characteristics that are compatible with the particular flooring surfaces in a facility. A good place to start is with materials certified by the National Floor Safety Institute (www.nfsi.org).
Be alert for workers substituting cleaning materials or supplies. Ensure that sufficient cleaning supplies are available.
Apply floor cleaning and maintenance products in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Verify with cleaning personnel that they are familiar with and are using the correct cleaning and maintenance product application procedures. If there is a change in personnel or contractor, monitor usage again.
Remove any unauthorized or incompatible cleaning and maintenance products, and educate staff on the potentially dangerous consequences that using the wrong products can have on the slip resistance of flooring surfaces.
Separate cleaning and maintenance materials and equipment between the heavily soiled areas, such as food service areas, restrooms and break rooms, from other areas to reduce the likelihood of transporting a problem from one area to another. Color coding materials and equipment can provide instant recognition for personnel using them and can prevent usage of the wrong materials or equipment in an area of the facility.
Ensure that permanently installed features like carpet runners and mats are included in the maintenance and housekeeping program. These materials need to be regularly inspected for the buildup of contaminants and for deterioration that could lead to the creation of slip or trip and fall hazards. Keep in mind that while mats reduce the likelihood of producing slips, improperly maintained mats can create trip hazards.
Limit the difference in height between flooring surfaces and mats… while frequently inspecting mats to ensure they have not buckled or curled. Make sure that mats are firmly secured to the floor to prevent migration and that the floor beneath the mat is clean and dry. Make sure to evaluate the condition of these changes in height since they can deteriorate and create trip hazards.
Make sure each area has good lighting. Good visibility is essential for the prevention of accidental slips, trips and falls. Evaluate facility and grounds during different times of the day and seasons of the year to determine whether lighting is adequate. Consider the earliest and latest times when visitors, pedestrians or employees are on the premises. Provide additional lighting for walking surfaces, as needed. Don’t forget to include parking areas, stairways and loading docks. Promptly replace any burnt out bulbs.
Regularly review all slip and fall incident reports associated with the facility and understand the critical factors associated with them. Look for trends in location, time of day, etc., and focus staff training on cleaning procedures for these factors. Train workers how to properly respond to slip and fall incidents. All incidents should be promptly investigated. Consult with legal counsel on the best way to document investigation results.
Ensure that staff is well trained in spill prevention and response programs. They need to know where cleanup materials are located and how to use them in the event of an emergency. Instruct staff on the importance of reporting incidents and conditions that could result in incidents, even if none have actually occurred. Such reports will be the first indication of a potential issue that should be addressed.
One of the surest ways to prevent the transmission of dirt, water and other materials from the outdoors to the interior of a facility is to implement a good mat program. Ensure that mats are frequently inspected and are checked regularly for wear and the buildup of contaminants.
In warm weather, place an abrasive mat outside and an absorptive mat inside. In cold weather, put an absorptive mat just inside the door, followed by an abrasive mat. When mats get dirty or saturated, they must be exchanged for clean ones. Offer plastic bags at the entrance for umbrella storage when it’s raining so visitors don’t shake out water from their umbrellas far into the building. A poorly managed and maintained mat program can significantly increase the likelihood of reducing the slip resistance of flooring surfaces.
A walkway auditing program can help identify trends within a facility that can result in reduced slip resistance of flooring surfaces. To be effective, the testing should be completed in a consistent manner and include more than a single set of measurements.
Maintaining open and clear communication between staff, cleaning personnel and the walkway floor auditor is crucial to the identification of trends and elimination of factors that could reduce the slip resistance of floor surfaces.
Make sure stairs comply with the local building code, and that nosings are easy to see — even for a visually impaired person. Stairs need to have very uniform rise and run, and handrails that are firmly mounted and easy to grip. Avoid having confusing carpet patterns on stairs or steps whose appearance make it hard to tell where each step’s nose ends. On hard surfaces, abrasive tapes can help. Outdoor stairs must be slip-resistant when wet and should have stripes on each tread.
Institute a program to regularly inspect all walkways, parking areas, stairs and indoor walking surfaces for condition and maintenance. Repair any unstable surfaces, such as loose tiles or torn carpet. Secure any mats, rugs or carpets that don’t lie flat. Provide adequate clearances for doors, walkways and aisles. Keep floors clean and dry, and remove any obstructions or tripping hazards. Conduct routine monitoring of any walking surface that is periodically wet or icy, such as sidewalks, building entrances or food coolers.
Maintain surveillance of potentially slippery areas, and clean up spills before anyone falls. Instruct maintenance personnel to use “wet floor” signs to mark contaminated areas until the contaminant can be cleaned up.
If you or a loved one is injured in a slip and fall accident and you believe that the accident occurred because of negligence on the part of the property owner, call the law offices of Georgia premises liability attorney Michael Neff to schedule your free consultation.