19 October 2020
In the movies slipping on a banana skin can be very humorous, but Alistair Simpson recognises that it is no laughing matter if it happens in the workplace and can be very costly both for the individuals and companies involved.
SINCE THE heyday of silent movies, people have enjoyed slapstick humour. Characters get marooned in a patch of grease and can’t get to their feet, and the old banana skin gag still hangs around. But, away from the movies, there’s nothing funny about slips, trips and falls. Oliver Hardy might have survived a ride down several flights of stairs on a stray roller skate, but it was staged. Anyone else would be lucky to escape without a fracture, concussion or something even more catastrophic.
Adding up the costs
Special effects aside, Buster Keaton and the likes incurred a few injuries from their screen stunts, but if you’re still thinking that slips and trips aren’t that serious − a bump, a bruise and a blow to the pride − the HSE has published some sobering figures. It estimates slip and trip accidents cost UK businesses over £500m annually. The cost to society is put at £800m and, tellingly, it admits that for the individual concerned, the costs are incalculable and could include anything from loss of earnings to lifelong pain and suffering.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the expenses employers might incur as a result on a slip, trip or fall-related injury. Firstly, there are costs for insurance, fines or compensation. Then there are the costs of sick pay, replacement staff or reduced outputs. There is admin time and investigation work to be factored in. Plant and equipment may need repair or replacement. It all adds up, and where negligence has contributed to the incident, the organisation’s image or reputation can be damaged. A small spillage, costing next to nothing in terms of materials, could have a significant effect on your results.
There is no shortage of advice on how to reduce the likelihood of slips and trips in the workplace. Employers should undertake a risk assessment to identify and eliminate as many potential hazards as possible. They need to look at their flooring materials and footwear requirements. But even when those two things are sorted, they still need to be wary of contamination of the shop floor, washroom floors, and kitchen area or canteen floors.
Problems are often due to poor work practices or inadequate housekeeping. They could also arise as a result of leaking roofs, faulty equipment or damaged storage containers. Whatever the cause of contamination − whether it’s a leak or a spill, whether the material itself is hazardous − the contaminant is likely to make a floor surface more precarious. For example, a floor that’s “grippy” when dry, could easily become like an ice- slick after a spillage. These areas − even with practical flooring − can quickly become treacherous.
The need for speed
Naturally, to avoid contamination, it makes sense to have good quality storage for materials. Plant and machinery should be well maintained. Staff should be trained to identify hazards and avoid spillages. Infrastructure and working practices should be designed to minimise risks. Even so, in this uncertain world, things do go wrong.
We should be prepared because if a spillage occurs, speed is of the essence. Even if the material which has been spilt is benign, the hazards it causes can multiply rapidly. Seepage could result in drains and watercourses becoming polluted. If the contamination affects a walkway or vehicle route, it can quickly spread to other areas, increasing the numbers impacted, the overall level of risk and the costs of cleaning up.
Being prepared is not about being overly cautious. It’s about being responsible, protecting people and protecting the environment. If you work only with non-hazardous materials, it’s still worth being prepared. After all, the banana in your lunchbox isn’t hazardous, but drop its skin and you’ve entered the danger zone.
Organisations that haven’t adequately considered their spill response, often compound the original problem. Imagine engine oil has leaked from a machine on the shop floor. The floor is slippery and with no effective cleaning materials to hand, the machine operator puts a piece of corrugated cardboard down to soak up some of the spillage while he completes the production run. The cardboard hangs around and becomes a trip hazard lying on top of a greasy surface.
Simple, effective solutions
Cleaning up after a spill or leak isn’t complicated providing you act swiftly and have the necessary equipment to hand. For example, we frequently recommend the use of absorbent granules to deal with spills, but we know that the granules can only do their job if they’re readily available. That’s why we also have special poly carts for storing the granules. Easy to manoeuvre, the carts are designed to carry a brush and shovel and have room for carrying a waste bag. Indoors or outdoors, they can be wheeled to the location of any spill, allowing it to be contained and speeding the clean-up.
Poly carts are a very simple solution, but they’re very effective. Customers often tell us they’ve struggled for years, having sacks of absorbents on-site but stored in inaccessible places. Another problem that’s often cited is a reluctance to use clay-based absorbents in precision manufacturing sites. If only, these companies had asked for help earlier. We would have told them about Safesoak.
Safesoak is a wood-based absorbent granule supplied in 30-litre sacks. It’s lightweight, so it’s easy to handle. It soaks up twice the volume of more traditional clay materials and it works instantly. Crucially, there’s no clay dust to damage the plant or manufactured components. Another bonus is that once used, Safesoak granules can be incinerated, avoiding the need for contaminated clay to be landfilled.
When it comes to spills, you need to think about the wider consequences for individuals, their families and society as a whole. Indeed, some organisations hardly give a second thought to spill management until they’re faced with a serious issue.
A serious issue could be the spill that’s getting out of control or the injury that’s occurred when an employee encounters it. Both are avoidable. A bit of planning, the right tools for the task and some basic spill management knowhow could be all that’s needed to avert a crisis.
Alistair Simpson is managing director of Spillcraft. For more information, visit www.spillcraft.co.uk