Slips, trips and falls

1.  Introduction

Data published by the HSE suggests that slips, trips and falls (on stairs and the level) are the most common cause of injury at work, accounting for over a third of major injuries to workers and over half of reported injuries to members of the public. The Health and Safety Commission’s Revitalising Strategy of 2000 recognised this by setting targets for accident reduction in this area, and universities have signed up these targets. The HSE regards slips and trips as one of their priorities and inspectors are likely to investigate the more serious ones.

Slips, trips and falls make up a high proportion of the University’s accidents.  They are often disproportionately costly, both to the individual (because of pain and suffering) and to the organisation (because of lost time or the cost of compensation).

This policy statement examines some causes of slip, trips and falls and suggests practical ways of reducing or eliminating them at minimal cost.

2 .  Risk assessment

The risk of slip, trips and falls should be included in departments’ general risk assessments (UPS S1/02 and S2/02).  Using HSE’s five steps approach, departments should:

(a)  identify slip and trip hazards both inside and outside buildings (e.g. slippery floor coverings or stairs, obstructions, areas that may become wet or icy, areas that may become slippery because of algal growth)

(b)  decide who might be harmed, and how (e.g. staff, students, members of the public, contractors, especially taking into account  those that may be particularly vulnerable)

(c)  decide whether existing precautions are adequate to deal with the risks identified (if they are not, then take action to control the residual risks)

(d)  record the significant findings of the assessment

(e)  review the assessment if circumstances change and take further action if necessary.

3.   Factors contributing to slip, trips and falls

The checklist provided as part of UPS 1/07, Departmental Safety Inspections, already asks departments to consider a number of factors that could contribute to slips, trips, and falls.  The following list is more comprehensive and should be used in making departmental risk assessments.

(a)  Floors and other pedestrian traffic routes

  • Are they suitable for purpose? (Slip resistant surfaces should be provided where necessary.)
  • Are flooring materials correctly fitted and in good condition? (Holes, protrusions or other damage will need attention.)
  • Are they correctly cleaned using the right cleaning product?
  • Are smooth floors slip resistant or are slip-resistant finishes applied?
  • Are changes of level avoided where possible, or highlighted?
  • Are external traffic routes level and free from holes or obstructions?

(b)  Stairs

  • Are handrails provided?
  • Are steps of equal height and depth?
  • Are nosings in good condition, not slippery, and easily visible?

(c)  Surface contamination

  • Is there occasional accidental spillage (e.g. from coffee cups)?
  • Does it regularly arise from work activity (e.g. water spillages on laboratory or kitchen floors, or oil leaks from machinery or vehicles)?
  • Does it forseeably occur in adverse weather conditions (e.g. rainwater leaks; water or slush trodden into entrances)?
  • Are mats used to effectively soak up water from shoes, or is there water on the floor beyond the mats?
  • Is there a regular inspection and cleaning regime?

(d)  Cleaning

  • Is the correct cleaning product used?
  • Is it used according to the manufacturer’s instructions?
  • Is access restricted until floors are completely dry? (Recently washed smooth floors will remain slippery even after they appear to have dried.)
  • Are alternative pedestrian routes available until the floor is completely dry, or can it be cleaned in sections to maintain a dry route through the area?

(e)  Environmental factors

  • Does a smooth floor become wet because of rainwater ingress (from leaks or from footwear)?
  • Does a smooth floor become wet from condensation (e.g. around autoclaves, washers, or steam ovens)?
  • Is a smooth floor fitted where a highly slip resistant one should be used instead?
  • Are outside surfaces free of algae, leaves, snow, or ice? (A regular inspection and cleaning programme should be established where this is a recognised problem.)
  • Is the lighting adequate, both inside and outside buildings? (Excessive glare from poorly located lights may be as bad as insufficient light.)

(f)  Housekeeping

  • Are floors and stairs kept clear of obstructions (e.g. trailing cables, empty boxes, litter)?
  • Is there enough storage space?

(g)  Human factors

  • Are your staff and students aware of their responsibility to clear up spillages and to report accidents, near misses, or dangerous conditions promptly to someone who will take action?
  • Or do they think it’s not their problem and leave it for someone else to deal with?
  • Is there a system in place that would help them report such things? (The Estates Services Help Desk is able to deal with such conditions outside of buildings – is there a departmental defect reporting system as well?)
  • Does the work activity increase the chance of slipping or tripping (e.g. carrying large items that obstruct the view)?
  • Are there vulnerable people who might be more likely to trip or slip, or more likely to suffer injury as a result (e.g. those with disabilities, the infirm, the elderly, or children)?

(h)  Footwear

  • Do people wear appropriate footwear?  (In most parts of the University it is not possible or appropriate to control what’s worn, so it is especially important to keep smooth surfaces dry and free of contamination.)
  • In areas where floors can foreseeably become contaminated or wet, is suitably slip resistant footwear provided (e.g. for outdoor workers, kitchen staff, cleaners, those who wash up, or those who work where there may be oil spills)?
  • It is not advisable to select the correct footwear solely on the basis of catalogue descriptions. Advice should be sought from suppliers, who will ideally provide trial samples to test on site.

4.   Selection and specification of new flooring

Those responsible for selecting new or replacement flooring must specify material that is suitable for preventing slips and trips. Manufacturers and suppliers have a legal duty to provide this information, as well as information on cleaning and maintenance. Unfortunately, manufacturers’ data on slip resistance is not always easy to interpret, there is no uniform way of expressing it and it may be misleading.

Slipperiness may be quoted simply as a coefficient of friction (CoF): this should be viewed with caution as the type of test used can affect the result.  Slip resistance according to DIN 51130 is also commonly cited: a value of R9 is often presented as good slip resistance but the scale starts at R9 and runs to R13, with R9 being the most slippery. Surfaces classified as R9 (and sometimes R10) are likely to be unacceptably slippery when wet or greasy.

The HSE encourages manufacturers to test and specify the slip resistance of their flooring in terms of CoF (measured by the Pendulum Coefficient of Friction Test, which is designed to simulate a slipping foot) and Rz (measured by a surface micro-roughness meter).

 Suitability Pendulum Test Value Rz (surface roughness value)
High slip potential  0-24  <10µm
Moderate slip potential  25-35  10-20µm
Low slip potential >36  >20µm


Test data should ideally relate to the floor as installed and under its intended conditions of use and it should be noted that slip resistance will deteriorate with inappropriate maintenance or long term wear.

Excellent information for designers and architects is available in the following publications:

(a)  The Specifiers' Handbook. Produced by the Centre For Accessible Environments, this is available as a priced publication from RIBA Publishing, ISBN 1-85946-255-3.

(b)  CIRIA C652: Safer surfaces to walk on - Reducing the risk of slipping. This is available as a priced publication from the Construction Industry Research Information Association. (see

This publication costs £100.00.  A copy is available at the Safety Office for viewing.

5.   Existing flooring

The Safety Office is able to measure the surface micro-roughness of floors and will do so where accident reports suggest that slippery floors were a contributing factor, or otherwise on request. The results will be used in conjunction with HSE’s Slip Assessment Tool ( to show what factors may influence the risk of slipping.

6.   New case law

Departments should note that a recent Court of Appeal decision [1] has altered the way in which courts may view the suitability of flooring.  The court found that an assessment must be made of any transient contamination that occurs on a “frequent and regular” basis, as well as the construction of the flooring itself. The court’s definition of “frequent and regular” is very strict – in this case there had been just three slips on a wet floor in the previous three years.

7.   Summary of action required

(a)  Departments should review their risk assessments relating to slips, trips and falls. Assessments should consider areas outside as well as inside buildings and any vulnerable groups of users.

(b)  Departments should then assess whether they need a regular inspection and cleaning regime that includes areas outside of their buildings.

(c)  Departments should remind staff and students that they have a part to play in the prevention of accidents by clearing up spillages promptly and reporting accidents, near misses, and dangerous conditions.

(d)  Those who specify flooring (including architects and designers engaged by the Estates Services) should ensure that it is fit for its intended purpose, taking into account likely “frequent and regular” contamination (and noting the Court of Appeal’s view of this definition).


[1] Ellis v. Bristol City Council [2007] Court of Appeal: 5 July 2007. A civil claim was made alleging contravention of the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. The Claimant had slipped on a floor that frequently became wet and slippery. Previous similar accidents had occurred: three in three years. The Defendant had made risk assessments, had a good system of inspection and cleaning in place, placed warning notices, and had positioned non slip mats in the worst affected areas, but the Court of Appeal found that the flooring was not suitable for purpose and ruled that the suitability of flooring must be considered in conjunction with the conditions in which it is used.