Gaining Traction on Slippery Floors
Slip-and-fall claims are both common and costly. But are they avoidable?
By Heidi Shetler , Dan Silver
Restaurants are a landmine of slip-and-fall risks. From waitstaff carrying trays of food and drinks, to dishwashers navigating wet spots on the kitchen floor, to patrons ignoring caution signs, all it takes is one quick tumble to unleash a host of financial and legal issues.
According to the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI), slip-and-fall accidents send more than three million foodservice employees and one million customers to the hospital annually, with costs for such incidents increasing by 10 percent each year. To a business owner, slip-and-fall accidents can severely impact a company’s bottom line, accounting for a large percentage of claims and reported injuries.
For claims professionals, the foodservice industry presents unique challenges. From a numbers standpoint, slip, trip, and fall accidents tend to create more serious injuries, which, in turn, yield larger claims payouts. Bone fractures, head traumas, and deep lacerations are all common and significant injuries caused by such incidents.
In any industry, the key to keeping payouts low and reducing future claims is prevention. Implementing a comprehensive slip-and-fall prevention program not only provides a stronger case for claims managers and litigators in the event of a claim, but also it helps guard against future accidents.
The Real Cause of Slips and Trips
Restaurants are often different from other businesses in the hospitality industry. Many are family or locally owned/operated. They fall into habitual routines that can be difficult to break. With so many high-priority issues needing attention, slips, trips, and falls get pushed to the bottom of the list.
Marsh recently released a report analyzing loss trends in the foodservice industry, which found that slips and falls, while common, are extremely costly, and very few business owners understand the factors contributing to them. In other words, food service business owners are aware that slip-and-fall claims are costing them money but have not yet found a viable solution without creating additional safety issues.
This should be very telling to a claims professional. Defeating the claim, or at the very least reducing the payout, can only be achieved when a reasonable attempt has been made to prevent an accident. If a business owner is unaware of the slip-and-fall risks within her own establishment, it will be even more difficult to prove she did everything she could to prevent the fall from occurring.
The Details Matter
NFSI has conducted extensive research over the years to learn why slips, trips, and falls occur in restaurants. According to its analyses, slip, trip, and fall prevention programs that include written plans and audits can reduce these accidents by as much as 90 percent. More importantly, documented safety procedures that are executed and monitored on a regular basis can serve as valuable defense material for a claims professional.
However, an effective floor safety program involves more than simply issuing non-slip footwear or changing the water in the mop bucket. Like other workplace safety hazards, risks need to be properly identified and evaluated.
The following guide is designed to help insurance professionals work with insureds to implement comprehensive fall prevention programs:
• Conduct a floor and walkway audit: Many business owners only protect entranceways, leaving high-traffic risk areas like bathrooms, kitchens, and major walkways untouched. Analyze walkway behaviors, particularly during rush periods, as these risks will stand out more in a fast-paced environment. Proper record-keeping techniques, such as inspection logs, are especially important when evaluating wet floors in the event of a slip-and-fall claim because they will provide a written record of preventative action.
• Review procedures for cleaning and maintenance: Problems with improper cleaning procedures can range from over-cleaning to under-cleaning. When the floor isn’t cleaned frequently enough, dirt can build up and cause the surface to become slippery. Using the wrong cleaning solution or over-cleaning certain areas can damage the floor’s finish which is designed to provide friction and prevent falls. Check with restaurant cleaning staff to evaluate such procedures.
• Review footwear guidelines: As reported by NFSI, proper footwear is an important element in the battle to prevent slips and falls. It has been estimated that 24 percent of all foodservice slip-and-fall accidents are directly caused by improper footwear. Restaurant owners should inspect employee footwear to ensure workers are properly outfitted based on their assigned roles.
• Repair damaged floors and improve traction: Walking surface imperfections that contribute to slips and falls—such as loose floorboards and torn carpeting—are easy to find but are often overlooked or improperly addressed. In addition to reviewing housekeeping procedures, implement slip, trip, and fall prevention measures in entrances and high-traffic areas to reduce or eliminate hazards caused by wet weather, spills, or bunched-up floor mats. Simple fixes like switching from rubber-backed floor mats to a slip-resistant adhesive-backed mat, or fixing uneven flooring, can drastically improve a company’s safety record while also demonstrating a broader commitment to safety.
• Solicit feedback from the restaurant staff to locate floor safety hazards: When in doubt, go directly to the source. Survey staff members and ask them to point out unsafe conditions or areas that need improvement. Restaurant owners should consider hosting a monthly safety meeting with staff or make safety check-ins a regular part of team gatherings. Identifying, documenting, and rectifying any potential issues will significantly reduce the frequency of future claims.
Ultimately, a solid plan aimed at reducing slips, trips, and falls, and an organization-wide pledge to enforce it, will save time and money for all parties.