Fast food restaurant owners ponder options

Which are the right slip prevention options for us?

A local authority Environmental Health Officer (EHO) visited a fast food restaurant (one of a chain) to investigate a slip accident which broke the arm of a female employee. The EHO identified that there were several good aspects about the safety standards on site - a generally positive company attitude to safety, adequate training well-kept documentation & records, proper floor cleaning systems - but the servery area was found to be very slippery. The nature of the business meant that the floor in the busy servery area was bound to become wet at some stage. When the EHO spoke to members of staff they stated that the incident "had been waiting to happen".

Investigation revealed that several floor areas had been replaced in the past. However, the floor covering in the servery seemed to be the original, having been in place for more than seventeen years. The EHO looked at the accident records and found that there was a higher incidence of slip incidents in the servery than elsewhere. Discussion with the Duty Manager revealed that the company response to this had been to deploy "Caution! Slippery floor." signs.

The owners arranged for testing to be carried out on the floors to find out about the surface roughness. This was found to quite good in most areas of the premises but not in the servery. The original tiling in the servery had very low surface roughness - much less than was needed to be able to provide grip in a kitchen/servery situation. The EHO used this floor roughness information with the Slip Assessment Tool software (then undergoing field trials) which takes into account information about work activities, the environment, likely spillages and many other relevant factors. The assessment indicated that there was a significant risk of slip injury - an indication borne out by the area's incident history.

The company were advised that the floor surface in the servery was a t the heart of the problem and that the floor should be first thing to be looked at. The owners however wanted to try some special 'anti-slip' overshoes for their staff and despite the EHO's advice that the working environment should be put right before the use of personal protective equipment is considered, the overshoe trial went ahead at three of the owners' sites.

Experience showed that the mainly young staff were reluctant to wear the overshoes (a fashion issue!), enforcing the wearing of the overshoes impaired good staff relations, a good fit was hard to achieve as only 'S, M & L' sizes were available for the trial which increased tripping problems. Although the overshoes did provide extra slip resistance (so might be a viable option in some circumstances) the associated problems at the site negated the benefit.

The owners decided that the best option was, as the EHO had originally suggested, to tackle the problem in the work environment. The relatively small cost of reflooring (extended by the company to areas beyond the highest risk servery) led to the conclusion that it would probably have been cheaper in staff and administration time to have pursued this option at a much earlier stage. Technical specifications of the proposed floor covering were obtained to ensure that it was suitable for the purpose - providing good slip resistance and being readily cleanable to meet food hygiene requirements.

A subsequent review showed that the slip accident rate had reduced by 70% since the replacement of the floor covering and that staff on site were much happier with the conditions.

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