This month, a major supermarket chain that operates in Greater Vancouver was ordered to pay $755,000 to a claimant who suffered a slip and fall accident at one of their stores. The claimant slipped in a puddle of spilled laundry soap and hit the back of her head on the floor. The issues brought before the court included liability, damages, and contributory negligence, which resulted in an award to the claimant that considered a loss of past wages, pain and suffering, and a loss of future wages to account for a physician diagnosis stating that the individual was no longer competitively employable.
Brick and mortar businesses in BC have already taken note and are revisiting their slip and fall policies. This is a wise idea, considering that the Occupier’s Liability Act in British Columbia demands that at all times, owners and occupiers must keep their property reasonably safe and free from hazards that may cause injury. Those who neglect to do so face a potential lawsuit and a claim for damages. As your leading broker for commercial insurance, Park is here to help keep your customers/staff protected, while keeping you free from yet another liability concern.
6 Tips to Keeping Your Business Insulated from Slip and Fall Liability Risk
1. Devise and Post an Explicit Prevention Plan
Coming up with a proper slip and fall prevention plan and cleaning procedure isn’t the hard part, making sure it’s understood and followed by staff is. But first, let’s lock down the procedure with the following:
- Keep a sweep log – Medium to large stores need to keep an hourly sweep log. This is normally maintained by custodial staff, but if there is none, then the duty should be delegated accordingly. Those responsible will walk the premises, attend to spills and the like, and complete the sweep log. The log can be posted in public view, in the management office, or both.
- Immediate attention – When a wet spot is discovered by anyone on staff, it must be attended to immediately. If discovered by staff without a broom/mop, the spot should be covered (empty box, paper towel, etc.) and a wet-floor sign should be placed in the exact zone before going to retrieve the supplies. If possible (and where applicable), the staff member who discovers the spill should stay there and call the cleaner. Bottom line, is that every step should be taken to keep a customer from entering the zone without anyone or anything in place to warn them until the issue if dealt with.
- Clear the space when cleaning – When mopping/sweeping, access to the zone should be blocked from the customer, using visible tape or a barricade of wet-floor signs. Cleaning solution and water from the mop can be just as hazardous as the initial spill.
- Block access until dry – Maintain the barrier until the space has fully dried.
Once you have the sweep log and documented cleaning plan in place, share it with employees in a group email, post it in a staff common area, and hold a meeting to go over the procedure. Conduct training, and update the procedure (and training) every year or immediately after a lack of clarity on the matter becomes evident.
2. Ensure Slip and Fall Procedure is Followed
During the lifespan of your business, a slip and fall is likely to occur, no matter how staunch your prevention plan may be. When it does happen, make sure that the immediate response complies with the appropriate protocol. In the supermarket trial addressed above, it became evident that the manager on duty did not follow the required procedure.
Common slip and fall policies include the following action items:
- Offer immediate medical attention – Designated staff with first aid training must be called to the scene immediately. They are to offer medical attention, and if accepted, perform the necessary procedure as required by their station. If serious, or there is even potential for a concussion, call 9-11.
- Incident report – Immediate documentation of slip and fall accidents is of vital importance. This can be an effective means to protect your business from false or exaggerated claims of injury. An incident report must be made at the time of the accident. The incident report will include the reason for the slip and fall, whether or not there were witnesses, conditions precipitating the fall, and all other pertinent information. Photos should be taken of the zone and the injured party, and included in the report, along with video from security cameras. The names and contact information of parties involved must be recorded.
- Clean the space – As soon as the individual has received appropriate immediate medical attention, and photos have been taken of the zone, promptly attend to the spill as per item #1 above. Be sure to keep the container (as applicable) that spilled, for evidence.
- Report the incident to your insurance provider – Contact your insurance company to inform them about of the fall and the details of the incident report. If the slip and fall was a staff member, promptly contact your workers’ compensation insurance provider and follow their prescribed protocol.
Like with the prevention plan, the post slip and fall policy must also be explicitly documented and communicated to everyone on staff.
3. Keep Caution “Wet Floor” Signs on Floor at All Reasonable Times
You should have a wet-floor sign for every entrance, aisle, and room (bathrooms and staff rooms included) of your establishment. It’s better to have too many, than not enough, especially when you may need to use more than one to form a barricade around a wet spot.
But don’t store these signs away. Keep them close by so that they can be easily accessed when needed. Consider all scenarios that could result in a wet spot, and if there is a reasonable risk, place a wet-floor sign in the high risk zone. For example, if it’s raining outside, place one at each entrance, and in high foot traffic areas. If you sell liquid products and a promo person is doing in-store sampling (sauces, etc.) or demonstrations (liquid cleaners, etc.) then place a wet-floor sign around the kiosk, podium, or table too. If there is the slightest potential for an incident, don’t worry about going overboard with the wet-floor signs.
4. Provide Adequate Lighting
Many businesses don’t consider this. When there is poor lighting, you increase the chance that a wet spot will go unnoticed. While dim lighting may be a part of your interior design you should avoid going that route if you sell liquid products or are set up in an especially wet climate. If dim lighting must persist, be extra diligent in your hourly floor inspection.
5. Ask Customers to Be Diligent Too
You can demand that management and staff alike be extremely diligent when it comes to your prevention plan and slip and fall policy, but you can’t expect the same caution from visitors and customers. That being said, you can give them every opportunity to do so.
Place a visible umbrella bucket (to catch drips) at the entrance with a sign requesting that they place their wet umbrellas within. Bigger stores install umbrella bag dispensers at the entrance, but there is no reason for small and medium brick and mortar businesses to not do the same. Some businesses ask that food and drink not be brought into the establishment, not only to protect product, but to prevent spills. Staff can also alert customers to potentially hazardous conditions in the shop, such as when it has been raining or when a particular aisle has just been cleaned and barricaded. In the end, customers will appreciate this attention to detail when it comes to their personal safety, while you will take one step closer to mitigating liability risk.
6. Have an Independent Broker Review Your Commercial Liability Policy
Don’t wait another moment to take action. A customer, staff member, or anyone from the general public may wander on to your property today and have an accident. Every day that passes without receiving a commercial liability policy reassessment increases your risk. While a big chain may be able to bounce back from a large claim, a small or medium business such as yours may not. Why take a chance? Contact Park Insurance right away to consult with an independent insurance broker who will take a comprehensive accounting of your policy, and will put together a coverage plan that insulates you from the risk of slip and fall concerns, and more.