In fact, slips and trips are the most common cause of injuries at work and cost UK employers over £500 million a year. When the cost to society by way of NHS costs, loss of output and social security payments is factored in, this figure rises to £800 million.  It is highly likely that an employer or occupier will owe a person who has slipped or tripped a duty of care. This article will address the relevant legislation, regulations and case law duty holders should be aware of, as well as some of the prevention measures that can be taken to reduce accidents.

Employers

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HSW Act) requires employers to ensure the health and safety of all employees and anyone who may be affected by their work, so far as is reasonably practicable.

The Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 require employers to assess risks, including slip and trip risks, and, where necessary, take actions to address them.

The Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992 require floors to be suitable, in good condition and free from obstructions. People should be able to move around freely.

Occupiers

Under the Occupiers' Liability Act 1957 (OLA 1957), an occupier of land owes a duty of care to visitors (someone who has permission to be on the land). The duty is to take such care as in all the circumstances is reasonable to ensure that the visitor will be reasonably safe in using the premises for the purposes for which the visitor is invited, or permitted, by the occupier to be there.

Case Law

The leading case on this subject is Ward v Tesco Stores Limited [1976] 1 All ER 219. The Claimant was a customer at the Defendant’s store. She slipped and fell on spilled yoghurt. The Claimant could not prove that the spillage had been caused by another customer, neither could she prove how long the spillage had been on the floor before the accident.

The initial burden of proof was on the Claimant to show negligence/fault.   The Defendant was then found to have an evidential burden to show that, on the balance of probabilities, the Claimant would still have slipped on the yoghurt despite a proper system of inspection and cleaning. The Defendant failed to provide evidence that the cleaning system had been implemented and consequently was found liable. This case demonstrates the necessity for duty holders to ensure not only a system of inspection and cleaning, but a corresponding system of record keeping. It also highlights the evidential burden in slip and trip claims: once an accident has been proved by the Claimant the burden shifts to the Defendant to show that reasonable steps had been taken to prevent the accident.

More recently in Cook v Swansea City Council, [2017] EWCA Civ 2142, the Court of Appeal upheld a finding that a local authority had not breached its duty under the Occupiers’ Liability Act to take reasonable care to ensure that visitors would be reasonably safe when using an unmanned car park in icy conditions.  Its operation of a reactive system whereby such car parks would be gritted upon receiving a report from a member of the public about a dangerous area was appropriate.  There was much force in the local authority’s arguments at Trial as to why it would be unreasonable in all the circumstances to impose a duty of care that would effectively require it to grit its unmanned car parks whenever icy conditions were reported.  A balancing exercise was to be carried out when considering what amounted to “such care as in all the circumstances of the case is reasonable”.

In Furness v Midland Bank Plc [2000] CA the Claimant slipped on a few drops of water on a staircase in her office. No one knew where the water had come from and there was no history of similar spillages. The spillage of water on the stairs was clearly a substance which was capable of causing a slip or fall. However, unlike in Ward, the Defendant was able to argue that spillages were not frequent, which lowered the threshold for demonstrating reasonable care had been taken. Consequently, the Defendant was successful in arguing that it was not reasonably practicable to keep the staircase free from such small spillages.

Practical preventive measures

The following simple steps should be considered by all employers and occupiers:

  • stop floors becoming contaminated (wet, uneven, or faulty);
  • use the right cleaning methods (use an effective technique that leaves floors dry after cleaning);
  • ensure that any cleaning products are appropriate for the floor surface;
  • ensure the use of warning/hazard signs;
  • consider the flooring and work environment (check for loose, damaged or worn flooring, replace dangerous flooring, provide sufficient lights and remove obstructions from walkways); and
  • ensure use of the right footwear.

How to prevent liability

The first step a duty holder should take is to assess the risks posed to potential slippers and trippers and take all reasonable practicable steps to minimise the risk. All employers should keep a written risk assessment and record preventative measures implemented; if you employ more than five employees this is a legal obligation. For all duty holders a written risk assessment is sensible as it will provide evidence that steps had been taken to identify and minimise risks. In addition, a thorough system of recording inspections and cleaning (including dates and times, and identification of the person undertaking the inspection/cleaning) is crucial as Defendants need to establish not merely that a reasonable system was in place, but that they actually took all reasonable care on the day of the accident itself.

Whilst Capsticks is well positioned to help you should you face a claim, the best course of action is to prevent slips and trips. The aim should be that in the event that an accident does occur you are able to evidence that on the day of the incident you had taken all reasonable steps in the circumstances to ensure the safety of the victim.