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Slips, trips and falls: The number one safety risk in your café

Cafés are busy places with a lot of activity and foot traffic, making them prime locations for slips, trips and falls.

While they might sound like relatively minor occurrences, slips, trips and falls can have a range of potentially serious consequences, including debilitating injuries to the hip, pelvis, head, back and spine.

Employers often underestimate just how common slips, trips and falls can be. In fact, statistics from the HSE reveal that they are the number one cause of non-fatal injuries in Great Britain, accounting for 29% of the 581,000 self-reported injuries in 2018/19. They are also the most reported injury to members of the public.

Amongst the main causes are spillages, uneven floors, inappropriate footwear and cluttered aisles, i.e. things not being cleaned or cleared up quickly enough. Entrances/exits present particular risks, especially when the weather is bad. It is hardly surprising then that slips, trips and falls are statistically the most frequently occurring accidents in the hospitality industry, where all of these hazards are likely.

How can you prevent café safety risks?

Under the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, employers have a duty to ensure that employees, customers and anyone else affected by your activities are kept safe from harm. This requires employers to properly assess the risk from slips, trips and falls and take reasonable precautions to reduce these risks to a minimum.

Thankfully, slips, trips and falls can be easily prevented through simple measures, including the right awareness and training, cleaning procedures, equipment maintenance and footwear.

Consult your employees

Your employees are the first line of defence in reducing hazards. They should be trained to spot slip, trip and fall hazards and either remove them or reduce the likelihood that they will cause an incident.

A good starting point is to ask your employees what accidents or near-miss incidents they have witnessed in the last year. You may, for example, discover that people occasionally trip over the edges of the rubber mats placed to reduce slips, trips and falls – making them a hazard in themselves. In this case, you might consider buying strips made to ‘snap’ mats together, so that people don’t travel between different levels.

In regard to mats, be aware that their grip can become ineffective over time if not maintained, and certain cleaning products can also degrade them. It is therefore important to periodically check the ‘tread’ on your mats as you would car tyres.

Other floor advice:

  • Use clean water and appropriate cleaning products to mop up water, grease, food and any other spills – and do so in a timely manner. (Risk assessors often walk into hospitality kitchens or storerooms and see buckets of dirty water with dirty mops soaking in them. Swiping greasy, dirty water over flooring is not going to make it less slippery or clean).
  • Research cleaning products and floor coatings, as certain products contain additives that do double jobs; they clean and provide some floor traction.
  • Keep your floors as dry and clean as possible and encourage employees to clean up spills as soon as they are spotted. Ask yourself what makes your floors slippery (is it water, grease, condensation or spilt food?), then try removing or managing whatever your floor hazards are.

NB: Make sure you have standard operating procedures in place for everything, from cleaning floors and servicing mats to emptying or cleaning equipment and taking out rubbish.

Shoe-up wisely

Workers in construction or manufacturing understand the importance of appropriate footwear. The hospitality industry should be no different. However, employees will often come to work wearing ‘normal’ leather-soled shoes when they should instead wear non-slip footwear.

In addition to slip-resistant shoes, employees who work around knives or hot pans must be aware of those hazards. It is essential that their shoes offer protection if any items are dropped.

Other potential hazards

Hospitality workers will face multiple slip, trip and fall hazards day to day, which requires them to be vigilant and proactive in keeping on top of them.

  • Entrances where customers come in with wet shoes or dripping umbrellas can be hazardous to both employees and customers. Many establishments have ‘rainy day’ mats that are used only on such days. Some offer disposable ‘sleeves’ for umbrellas so that they are not left to drip on the floor.
  • Restrooms can also be troublesome. Locate towels or towel dispensers next to sinks so that people who have washed their hands don’t drip water across the floor when trying to grab a towel. Assign an employee to conduct regular checks and to keep the floors clean and dry.
  • Areas where food is served will often have spilt food and splashes of water or ice around them. Assign someone to look for hazards and to clean when necessary.

All of this boils down to employees who are aware of their surroundings. Provide verbal and visual reminders, especially in areas where spills are common. When training employees, reiterate that they should not only look where they are going but use their peripheral vision – be aware of what is coming at them from either side – and let others know when they are behind them.

Ten 10 slip, trip and fall risks

The following have been identified as 10 risk factors most closely associated with slips and falls in the hospitality industry.
  1. Floor surfaces. How much slip resistance does the floor have when dry and properly cleaned? Hard surfaces may be slip-resistant when dry but very slippery when wet or soiled.
  2. Foreign substances. Ice, grease and water contribute greatly to hazardous floors. Mopping, especially with dirty water, can make the problem worse. Use a bucket with separate compartments for clean/dirty water.
  3. Surface conditions. Raised or recessed edges, loose carpeting, soiling and overall floor cleanliness are all factors. As a temporary measure, highlight the area of concern, report it and, where possible, keep people away.
  4. Surface changes. Walking from carpeted to tiled floor is a common cause of trips.
  5. Level changes. Unexpected slopes or raises in the floor can contribute to accidents.
  6. Extension cords, cables and even ‘wet floor’ signs can create obstacles that may invite accidents.
  7. Poor lighting, glare and shadows all impede visibility.
  8. Human factors. Including different physical abilities, shoe types and familiarity with areas.
  9. Falls from stairs typically result in the most serious injuries.
  10. Unusual features. Anything that could distract walkers, such as loud noises or flashing lights.

Five top tips for safeguarding your café against slips, trips and falls

The following measures could greatly reduce the risk of slip, trip and fall incidents:
  • Develop a slip, trip and fall risk control policy. Produce written procedures for handling spills and ensuring they are reported and immediately cleaned up.
  • Design and maintain your premises to reduce hazards. Ensure floors are kept in good condition and absorbent matting in entranceways during bad weather.
  • Employ good housekeeping practices. Make sure cleaning is carried out in the correct manner using the right products and equipment.
  • Conduct periodic walkthrough inspections to help identify and correct slip, trip and fall hazards in working and walking areas.
  • Educate employees on slip, trip and fall hazards and the role they play in preventing, identifying and reporting hazards.

Need guidance on your health and safety responsibilities?

Don’t forget – as a Bira member, you can receive expert health and safety support at any time through Bira Legal. For advice and clarification on any aspect of compliance, including help identifying realistic control measures that work for your café, get in touch with the Bira legal team.

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Whether you’re looking to open your own independent coffee shop or café or have been in business for years, Bira is here to provide support so your business can thrive.