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Do you know what to do when someone trips or slip and falls at your workplace?

This article is a teaser. I’m not going to disclose here the answer but I will share it with you in person. There is something you can do that will reduce your legal exposure. I’m not publishing it here because to learn this I had expend the cost to fly down to Atlanta, where the security director of a $35B company gave me this answer. I’ve asked general managers of large auto dealerships (you know those shiny polished granite showroom floors some of them have!) and none of them knew this. I asked my brother-in-law who was head of security for Desert Storm for USMC and was General Motors’ national union negotiator and was on their safety committees and he was unfamiliar with this. So it is certainly a rather special idea. But here we will discuss some things to prevent the slip or fall in the first place.



There are 9 million slip & fall incidents per year.

That means in ten years that is 90 million incidents — a number which is almost equal to 1/3 of the population of the U.S.! It is second only to motor vehicle accidents as a cause of injuries, and causes 15% of all accidental deaths. When it happens your profits can suddenly slip and fall and you can be involved in months of reports, depositions, legal defense, bad publicity and you probably should feel some guilt if you let a hazardous condition cause someone’s injury.


Through my decades dealing with safety and security I usually hear about things the day after. The Day After. This is the day no one was expecting. Unless you can invent a Time Travel Machine and go back there is nothing you can do about what happened. But, remarkably, I’ve even seen companies already being sued for an incident, allowing other easily repaired hazardous conditions to remain.


How to Solve Slippery Floors

At one dealership with the polished granite type floor my associate slipped walking into a meeting there with me. This was when the floor was dry on a sunny day. She didn’t fall. I asked the general manager if anyone else ever slipped there. “My salespeople slip all the time but none of them have actually fallen,” he said. Imagine my thought balloon. Something like: “Let’s just wait until some 70 or 80 yr. old customer of yours walks in and slips and breaks his or her hip or head.” Personal injury lawyers should just sit there and wait. OSHA, ANSI, (Amer Natl Standards Inst.) ADA, IBC (Intl Building Code -- used in U.S.) all now have codes which that floor violates. That would make it a walk in the park for the injured party’s lawyer. The codes are defined in terms of the dynamic coefficient of friction, in other words by a measurement of how much force it takes something to slide that is applied to the surface already in motion, like a foot stepping.


At another dealership — where I get my car serviced — they were already being sued for a trip and fall at the one location. Their other location half a mile away had a heaved block of concrete sticking up 1 ½”. They also had a chain link fence parallel to their sidewalk and the fence was about 9” from the edge of the sidewalk. The earth between for some reason was depressed about 12”. This means if a mom was pushing her baby carriage and looked over at the street she might step accidentally into that ditch, breaking her ankle or leg. To fix this all that had to be done was for the landscaper to throw some dirt in there for the sixty feet or so of ditch.


For the polished floor in the other dealership there is an invisible non-slip permanent treatment. It isn’t that cheap — about $2 or $3 per square foot applied— but if the floor was 5000 square foot and that is $12,500, that is nothing for a dealership. They spend that in a couple months burning light bulbs.  One incident could result in hundreds of thousands or even millions in damages.


This treatment is customized to the floor surface. It microscopically etches the surface. Not visible to the eye. Quite remarkable in effect. When the floor is wet a shoe won’t slide on it. We will refer you to the manufacturer/ applicator.  There are, alternatively, coatings that are painted on and have a very fine grit but these wear away in high traffic areas and can peel off in strips, so it will take some maintenance over the years.  The pro to the fine grit coating is that it increases traction on the dry floor as well, whereas the other invisible permanent type based on microscopically etching the surface works extremely well on wet floors but does not affect dry traction. Some of these high gloss tiles and floors I’ve found to be slippery even when dry.


In the meanwhile you should have Wet Floor signs and cones and have a wet pickup industrial vacuum cleaner to accelerate getting water off the floor.


Other Trip, Slip and Fall Causes

Examine all concrete walkways for heaved or cracked blocks. Note transitions to adjacent materials such as paved areas. In blacktop paved areas there are frequently cracks and divets or little sunken holes. These must be repaired. Metal grates for drainage must sit flat.


Hallway should be examined for thresholds and transitions. There are codes defining the minimum height of rise for a step. Otherwise it is a tripping hazard. Visual cues like differing colors between adjacent floors with a transition, slope or step should be used. Lighting directed at the transition will help direct people’s attention and reduce slips and trips.


Steps are required to have minimum tread width. A forensic architect explained to me that when something fails to meet current codes it is not always “grandfathered in.” Some codes such as the City of Philadelphia Maintenance Code require a commercial building open to the public to come up to present codes.  There are state laws which vary from state to state they define the liability of an owner of property for invited guests to the property and duties owed to the public. I have done expert witness work in three states related to liability in regard to such codes. Your typical security company knows nothing about this. It doesn’t help them sell hardware like cameras or monitoring services for what they call their “recurring monthly revenue.” We like all that too, but we also really care about reducing your serious liability and losses from multiple areas of potential loss.


Also look for litter on floors and in outdoor yards. The most egregious example I saw of this hazard was at a small factory that produced steel wire and rod. I wanted to visit the office. Employees were outside having a smoke break. I asked how I should get to the office. They casually told me to go in through a side door and walk to the right and I’d find a set of steps and go up there. (For one they also should have inquired as to who I was and requested I.D. or at minimum directed me to enter the front door, but that is the topic of another paper.) I went inside and their factory floor had thousands of cut-off pieces or 1/8” and ¼” steel rods about two or three inches long! Just like perfect roller bearings on the smooth concrete floor. What a perfect fall hazard! I managed to avoid them and live to tell this story.


I visited a friend’s newly expanded offices the other day. Nicely done and carpeted up the steps to the upper offices. But someone had — not sure why — placed one of those hard, clear plastic mats you use under office chairs right at the edge of the stairs going down. I told him to move that.  These types of things just sit there waiting for a victim, waiting to cause an accident. Once someone slips on that mat and falls down the steps it is a whole new world.


Don't Wait for The Day After

At Perimeter Protective Systems, Inc. we think of “security” in broader terms than burglar alarms, or even than “theft.” That little plastic mat could do a more effective job of “robbing” your place and your profits than the average vandal or petty thief.  You may read this and go back to your overly busy schedule. We understand. That is why you can call on us to come in and do this for you or we can train one of your personnel to do this and part of his or her job duties. We call that “deputizing an internal champion.” It is something that needs an initial boost and then regular periodic maintenance or inspections because things get moved, someone will put the plastic mat back at the top of the stairs.


One more thing. Many people tell me they already have someone who does safety inspections. I tell them to retain that person because they may find something I may not see. Humans, as you know, are not perfect. But I point out that they missed the polished granite floor death-trap, they missed the transportation authority’s bus-stand that blocks the sight-triangle or view of oncoming traffic for cars exiting their driveway, they missed the door-check on the office door that slams and could knock someone over, they missed the light posts or sign posts in the parking area that are painted the same color as the paving, they missed the fact that one of our famous package delivery company’s trucks is pulling through their lot at 30 MPH, they missed the unlocked door to their rear offices accessible from the street….and so on. These things mean nothing until The Day After.