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The Cleaning Industry and workplace slips and trips: a warning
Workplace slips incidences account for over a third in reported major injuries, two fatalities per year and 50% of all reported accidents to members of the public that happen in workplaces - all attributable to lack of cleaning, lack of due regard to the risks of wet floors and even to direct cleaning activities.
As an example, specialist consultancy Futureclean Assured Systems was recently involved directly as an expert witnesse to the claimant in a particularly complex case (now settled) which revolved almost entirely around this very problem.
In the case, the owners and managers of a large premises and a cleaning company contracted to the owners, admitted liability to damages sustained to an employee, as a result of a slip on a wet floor. The case, spanning a number of years, drew a number of experts from a range of specialist fields such as neurology, forensic engineering and specialist cleaning. As an expert in specialist cleaning and cleaning systems, Futureclean Assured Systems provided independent expert evidence to the case.
The case involved an employee going about her regular daily duties and then on one day, she slipped on a wet floor that had just been cleaned by an employee of the contracted cleaning company. A simple slip on a wet floor resulted in acute brain injury and a lifetime of chronic pain management. She is unable to work again and relies on a carer for daily tasks.
The evidence initially focused on the suitability of the floor and floor material, as well as the environmental conditions such as lighting levels. These were all discounted as they were found to be reasonable under the duty of care bestowed by the Health & Safety Act.
The claimant's legal team refocused its attention on the cleaning system employed by the contracting company. This encompassed the cleaning equipment and the cleaning product used at the time of the slip incident.
In order to objectively ascertain the effect the cleaning system had on the floor, a series of slip tests was conducted, which measured how slippery the floor was under controlled conditions. Under instruction, Futureclean Assured Systems measured the slip rating of the floor when dry and then different degrees of 'wetness' from mopping the floor. This allowed the consultancy to objectively assess the safety of the floor when dry, damp, wet and saturated with cleaning solution.
Extensive evidence was accumulated on the cleaning equipment and product employed, such as the mopping materials, the wringing-out process, the filling and dispensing of the cleaning solution, the cleaning method employed and taught, the formulation of the cleaning product and the likely situation that the equipment and product was used at the time of the incident. It was found that a combination of complacency in the appreciation of the health & safety risks of a wet floor - even a damp floor - with engineering problems inherent in the design of the cleaning equipment that was not considered in their risk assessment, together with a lack of understanding as to the effect cleaning detergents have on non-porous floor materials, all contributed to the accident.
The claimant was awarded significant damages from both the owners and the cleaning company.
There is a human price to pay for slip incidents like this, not to mention the significant financial costs to businesses and to the economy - and this is just one case in many that happen every year. Every three minutes a slip or trip occurs and on average the total cost to the UK economy is £800 million (HSE figures) - of that £512 million is directly paid out by businesses.
Says Futureclean Assured Systems' Rafael Cobos, AMIMarEST:
"We recommend that, amongst many others, those responsible for specifying the cleaning equipment, products and processes used:
Target complacency amongst the cleaning staff as to their awareness of the risks of wet floors.
Be aware of the familiarity of excessive warning sign usage and how it develops into 'sign blindness'.
Understand the effect the cleaning system has on the flooring material and floor coatings.
Instil a proactive approach by cleaning employees in reducing the risks of wet floors and
Provide the training needed to remedy a dangerous situation immediately.
All names, evidential details and places have been withheld due to legal constraints
12th July 2012