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If You Want to Reduce Slips and Falls... Forget the Program

Did that headline get your attention? Ironically, it means just what it says. The best way to reduce slips and falls in a typical foodservice environment is to not have a distinct slip/fall prevention program. Rather, a much more effective approach is to integrate the elements of such a program into existing functions and procedures.

For example, rather than having a separate slip/fall program that specifies items such as footwear or floor cleaning regimens, the existing purchasing function would be responsible for obtaining footwear.

In the same way, floor cleaning specifications would remain with maintenance. Accident reporting and investigation should be coordinated by security, which should follow existing procedures that now include additional information for slip/fall losses.

The case for integration. When an integrated approach is used, controls to prevent slips and falls are built into existing programs and processes where each element best fits. Otherwise, you just end up adding another program that must be reviewed by each function (along with all the other programs) in order to determine which part(s) apply to them.

Considering that management and employees are typically also responsible for implementing a variety of other stand-alone programs— food safety, emergency preparedness, material-handling, and a host of others—effectively implementing yet another set of " dedicated" procedures can be a real challenge.

An integrated approach to implementing risk management procedures makes it more manageable for those responsible for specific areas of work. They can thus focus on reducing the risk of potential incidents. Integrating these functions also significantly increases the likelihood of success.

Mapping out the functions. Of course, you still need to plan carefully and develop a strategy to assure the key elements of slips and falls prevention are covered. Existing functions need to be mapped out to determine where responsibilities lie. Critical loss areas (such as cause and location) must be identified and included, and existing policies and procedures need to be amended to include the required slip and fall exposures and controls. There's also orientation, training, and follow-up/enforcement.

As you might expect, an integrated approach to slip and fall prevention management requires an integrated approach to designing and implementing program components. This not only ensures that the program design is practical, but it also helps improve buy-in and observance of the program once it is implemented.

No "silver bullet". Many facility managers seem to believe that there is a silver bullet—a clearly-defined solution— for reducing or eliminating slips and falls in a workplace. This is a belief that is often reinforced by vendors of products that promise to do so. But it's clear that a good footwear program alone, or an effective floor care procedure in itself, does not control all the slip and fall exposures you face. Reducing the frequency of slip and fall accidents requires a multi-faceted methodology.

When developing slip and fall prevention program components, it is helpful to remember this engineering precept: Design to the Lowest Common Denominator.

Remember that slips and falls are not only the most common type of accident/loss for food service workers, but also for restaurant/ cafeteria patrons. You have to assume that anyone, in any physical or mental condition, could enter your facility. And once someone enters the facility, management assumes some degree of responsibility for the safety of the surroundings.

Think defensively. Consider that someone who is disabled or impaired, physically or mentally, may access your premises. In the same way, consider that someone who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs (whether prescription, over-the-counter, legal or illegal) might pay a visit. Consider that many customers and employees may be distracted or stressed, with other things on their minds, and may not be as aware of slip and fall risks as they might otherwise be.

All such situations are factors that present an increased risk of injury. Therefore, an effective program development method is to take into account these and similar scenarios when designing, implementing, and testing your management programs.

Hierarchy of Controls. Obviously, the most effective control measure is to eliminate any risk. Since eliminating all risk is often not reasonably feasible, you need to identify effective measures to reduce the risk.

In general, it is not advisable to rely solely on the use of administrative controls (such as training) or personal protective equipment (such as footwear) to reduce the risk unless it is clear that more effective controls are not practical. In some cases, these controls need to be used in combination with each other for maximum effectiveness. Here are some of the issues and risk management terms to keep in mind:

  • Elimination. Elimination of hazards refers to the total removal of the hazards, therefore reducing the potential for accidents. If the hazard is truly eliminated, other management controls, such as workplace monitoring, training, safety auditing, and record keeping should no longer be required.
  • Engineering controls. Engineering controls are physical means that limit the hazard. These include structural changes to the work environment or work processes, such as erecting a barrier between workers and the hazard. For slip and fall risk management, engineering controls include items such as as proper floor selection and appropriate design of steps, ramps, and handrails.
  • Administrative controls. Administrative controls reduce or eliminate exposure to a hazard by requiring employee and patron adherence to procedures or instructions. Procedural documentation should emphasize all the steps that are to be taken and the controls to be used in carrying out a given activity safely. Training, maintenance, and inspection are considered administrative controls.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Safety gear should be used as a last resort, after all other control measures have been considered. Protective equipment may be used as a short-term contingency measure or as a supplemental protective measure. The success of PPE, such as footwear, depends on the footwear's proper selection and upon having procedures in place to ensure that it is worn when required.

Slip/Falls and the Food Service Industry

Slips and falls are a costly fact of life in the foodservice industry. Consider the following statistics:

  • Slips and falls is the leading category of kitchen injuries in restaurant/hospitality occupancies, accounting for 34% of all restaurant worker injury cases (Hedden, Jenny, Strengthen Your Safety Net.
  • Slip and fall accidents accounted for 57% of food service general liability insurance claims. (CNA Insurance)
  • Of foodservice premises liability verdicts, 41% were between $10,000-$99,999, and 47% were between $100,000 and $5 million. The verdictmean was $85,840, and the average $397,000. (Personal Injury in the Hospitality Industry,JVR 2000)
  • A study by the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) found that 53% of all workers' compensation claims and public liability suits against supermarkets resulted from injuries sustained as a result of slip and fall accidents.
  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics' annual census of occupational injuries and fatalities reported that 3.4 of every 100 foodservice workers hurt themselves from a slip or fall bad enough to require at least a day off from work in 2002.
  • 22% of slip/fall injuries resulted in more than 31 days away from work (Bureau of Labor Statistics 2002).

In an integrated program, slip and fall prevention functions are relegated to existing business functions in the organization. Here are some examples of some of the departments that should be involved.

S/F Program Component Design by

Implementation by

Facility Design and Construction (e.g. flooring, drainage, equipment arrangement, lighting)

Design & Construction, Safety, Maintenance, Operations

Design & Construction, Legal

Inspection and Maintenance

Maintenance, Safety, Operations

Purchasing (products), Maintenance (application and monitoring)

Contractual Risk Transfer

Legal, Safety


Spill/Wet Program

Maintenance, Safety, Operations

Maintenance, Operations


Safety, Purchasing, Operations

Purchasing, Human Resources (replacement program)

Accident Reporting and Investigation

Safety, Security, Operations

Security or Operations

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