It is an unfortunate fact of life that slips and falls regularly occur in homes, workplaces, shopping centres and public areas. These falls are often caused by the presence of contaminants on the ground, but they can also be a result of the lack of any slip resistance of the surface being walked on.
Generally speaking a floor surface is more likely to be slippery when it is wet, or some form of contaminant is on the surface. However, from a legal perspective, a duty of care may arise on the part of an owner, occupier or employer when a slippery surface contributes to someone slipping and falling.
Counting the Cost
The cost associated with deaths and injury from falls, trips and slips is significant and impacts the person who has suffered the fall, their family and, if it was a work accident, their employer.
Although, a number of years old, The Monash University conducted a study, The Relationship between slips, trips and falls and the design and construction of buildings”, that was funded by the Australian Building Codes Board in 2008. In addition to providing a review of the design components associated with fall injuries, they also calculated the cost. “The total average frequency of death and hospitalisations respectively, for falls in buildings in Australia were 343 and 105,968 for the period July 2002 – June 2005. The estimated annual cost for these deaths was $250 million, and $1.28 billion for hospital admissions, excluding indirect costs.”
Since then, falls from injuries have been on the rise and so too is the cost associated with them. According to the Australian Institute of Health & Welfare[i], falls (from any cause) accounted for the largest proportion of injury hospitalisations during the period 2010-2011, with 438,382 hospital separations[ii] recorded (39%). When looking at the trends in age-standardised rates of hospitalised injury cases, by type of external cause, in Australia from 1999 to 2011, the report notes that falls are increasing annually by 1.7%.
During 2015-2016, falls, trips and slips in the workplace accounted for 23%[iii] of work related injury or disease, and was the second highest cause of a serious claim[iv]. For the same period work related injuries were responsible for 386 deaths (14%).
Building Code of Australia and Australian Standards
The Building Code of Australia (BCA) sets out construction requirements that must be complied with and includes minimum ratings on a range of materials including those that will be used in flooring.
Australian Standards are documents that are “pertinent to a particular subject, field or industry. In the building industry they deal with building material specifications, testing criteria and specifications, or simply how to design and/or build construction elements[v].” Standards Australia have prepared a handbook that serves as guidance “on ‘deemed-to-satisfy’ provisions introduced in 2014 into the National Construction Code”.
Current standards set out the minimum frictional properties of a variety of floor surfaces and applications and provide a benchmark as to what a reasonable slip resistance may be. This is referred to as a “slip rating”.
New pedestrian surfaces have four methods of testing and classifying their slip resistance:
- Wet pendulum test method
- Dry floor friction test method
- Wet-barefoot inclining platform test method
- Oil-wet inclining platform test method
Many building materials, such as tiles, will be supplied with slip rating evidence. However, in cases where the surface being tested has been constructed on site, in-situ testing can be carried out to ensure compliance.
Surfaces found to be non-compliant can be treated with products that have been designed to improve the slip resistance qualities of a floor surface. However, the coated surface may be subject to further in-situ testings and depending on the original finish and slope of the area, it may still be found to be non-compliant.
Identifying Foreseeable Hazards
Architects, designers, developers and builders all have a responsibility to ensure the products specified are suitable for their intended use, and in the case of flooring, have the appropriate slip rating.
However, even with the correct slip rating, which may significantly reduce the risk of a slip and fall accident, the owner of the property will still need to identify any foreseeable hazards that may harm the health or safety of anyone setting foot on the premise. An example of this would be in a supermarket where cold and frozen food is kept. Condensation can result in wet flooring which may add to the increased risk of a slip and fall accident. Placing slip-resistant or absorbent matting on the floor may assist in reducing the risk of a slip and fall in such areas.
In commercial applications, training staff to be aware and act quickly in situations where a potential slip hazard has presented, is critical and should form part of an organisations management plan and be reviewed with staff regularly.
Peace of Mind
While it is impossible to prevent accidents from occurring, steps can be taken in the building and design stages of construction to minimise them. Once a premise is occupied, business owners and landlords must be vigilant in identifying potential hazards and act swiftly to rectify them as the consequence of a slip and fall can be grave, especially for the elderly, and is not a risk that should be taken lightly.
If you are unsure whether your premise meets the BCA requirements contact a slip testing facility who will be able to conduct tests in-situ. They should also be able to conduct a tailored risk assessment audit that will identify, assess and manage potential risks in your workplace.
[i] Trends in hospitalised injury, Australia 199-00 to 2010-11
[ii] The process by which an episode of care for an admitted patient ceases
[iv] ‘serious claims’ relate to where the injury or disease resulted in one week or more off work