Did you know that slip and fall accidents are one of the most common (and most costly!) liabilities faced by commercial buildings that are open to the public? In Florida in 2010, a retail customer that slipped and fell was awarded over $1.3 million by a Broward County jury after the business owners were found negligent for not routinely checking walkways for potential dangers. In 2009, a jury in San Francisco awarded $265,000 to a shopper who sustained a knee injury as a result of slipping and falling in an improperly-cleaned supermarket aisle. And in 2010, a jury in Jefferson County, Texas awarded a plaintiff $391,000 for back injuries incurred as the result of a slip and fall. As these three verdicts demonstrate, slips and falls can happen at virtually any time and pose a significant threat to both individual clients, but also to businesses that serve the general public.
But what can you do to help prevent these kinds of accidents and protect yourself against being liable for damages? The easiest answer is the simplest one: proactive, preventative maintenance.
The first step is to write a comprehensive manual to formally document your building maintenance schedule and procedures. This doesn’t have to be complicated (or difficult!) – all you need is a schedule that dictates what cleaning needs to be done at what frequency and in which areas. Having a set schedule helps eliminate variables and individual staff members’ discretion – what’s dirty and in need of sweeping to one set of eyes may be “good enough” to another. A written and enforced floor safety and maintenance procedure will improve safety and demonstrate management’s commitment to slip-and-fall prevention. A well-thought-out and documented program will keep the facility looking neater and more professional while backing up the facts of the cleaning and maintenance documentation protocols. Custodial managers should maintain a detailed maintenance activity log that lists each maintenance task, the employee who last performed it, and the date and time it was completed. Cleaning frequency should be determined by the amount and type of traffic, as well as the location and the type of weather – wet and snowy weather will require more mopping, while dusty and windy weather will require more sweeping and vacuuming.
Don’t neglect your exteriors! Facilities should be maintained both inside and out slip and trip hazards can be outside as well. Make it a habit to walk through your facility with a partner while specifically looking for potential problem areas. An independent set of eyes will usually catch things that everyone else gets “house blind” to.
Floors should be kept clean, dry and clear of foreign debris and sidewalks should be kept completely clear of snow, ice and other slip-and-trip hazards. Sidewalks, parking lots, and other external walkways that customers use when entering and exiting the facility should be repaired at the first sign of damage, and all publicly accessible areas should be checked and maintained on a regular and routine basis.
A well-planned entrance matting program can also go a long way in helping the housekeeping staff keep facilities cleaner and safer, thereby reducing both labor and possible litigation costs. A proper entrance matting system should start outside the entrance of the building. Mats placed here – at the building’s exterior – will do a great deal of the pre-work of scraping dirt and debris from foot traffic. Once inside, place either indoor scraper matting (like knob matting) or dryer/scraper matting to finish the job. Matting placed indoors will not only improve the appearance of the lobby, but will also help keep dirt, water and foreign debris from getting tracked into the facility beyond the foyer. The more contaminants that get trapped at the entrance, the less risk there is for slip-and-fall accidents and the easier (and less expensive!) they are to remove. A combination matting system of outdoor scraper and indoor dryer/wiper matting helps keep entry floors cleaner, thus reducing labor and cleaning chemical costs. However, the wrong choice of matting can actually increase the risk of slips, trips and falls. When choosing matting, make sure you select mats that have enough weight and dimensional stability to remain flat and resist buckling when in use. It is also crucial that mats are not allowed to “migrate” from their initial location – a mat that migrates is a good indicator that it’s either not large enough for the job you’re asking it to do, or the floor underneath the mat isn’t being cleaned sufficiently.