Accidents at work
Accidents at work usually occur due to poor management control rather than equipment failure. Prevention is a high priority. The majority of accidents can be avoided with proper planning and procedures in place at the outset, and adhered to thereafter.
Slips can be caused by factors such as spillages of wet and dry substances on floors, flooring which is uneven or not slip-resistant, and poor lighting in an area making it difficult to see hazards. Trips are often caused by obstructions in walkways followed by uneven surfaces.
Human factors are a major contributory cause of such accidents. Workplaces often have a poor perception of slip and trip risks, failing to identify, report and manage them effectively.
Common factors in falls from height accidents include:
failure to recognise a problem
failure to ensure that safe systems of work are followed
failure to provide safe systems of work
inadequate information, instruction, training or supervision provided
failure to use appropriate equipment
failure to provide safe equipment.
Risk assessments should be carried out to assess the risks involved in working at height. This should be done prior to teachers carrying out the task. In addition, staff should always think of their personal safety and assess the risk from what they propose to do. Employers guidelines should always be adhered to. The most common incidents involve over-reaching; over-balancing; equipment failure; misuse of equipment; unexpected movement – particularly where ladders are involved; and the failure of a fragile surface. Staff can minimise risk and offer more protection to themselves by bearing in mind the following guidelines.
Working at height: important points to consider
Displays: prepare displays as far as possible before putting them up. It is important to note that the NEU advises teachers to use professional judgement in deciding whether the setting up and maintenance of displays is a task which is more appropriately undertaken by support staff colleagues, or whether it is a task which requires their own professional skills. It is important to note that taking down displays and putting coloured paper on the wall, prior to setting up the display, should not be viewed as part of the teacher’s role.
Use suitable equipment: school furniture is not suitable for standing on and all schools should have suitable equipment for working at height, eg ‘kick-step’ type stools, properly designed and maintained low steps and poles for opening high windows. If you cannot reach without over-stretching, you should ask for help from a premises manager or caretaker. If there are insufficient numbers of window poles or kick-step stools in your school, ask for more. Staff meetings are a good opportunity to raise issues such as lack of equipment or lack of access to equipment.
Maintenance/lack of equipment: poor maintenance, such as damaged window mechanisms, could create hazards and should be reported. If you are worried about the lack of equipment or its poor quality, you should inform your head teacher or NEU safety representative.
Footwear: wear suitable footwear.
Stairways and slopes
Flooring: floor surfaces should be suitable. Floors should be regularly checked for damage and problems dealt with immediately. Any mats should be securely fixed.
Obstructions: obstructions should be removed or suitable barriers and/or warning notices used.
Lighting: lighting should be sufficient. Handrails and floor markings should be available where necessary.
Spillages: work methods should minimise slippages. Spills should be cleaned up immediately. Alternative routes should be available or warning signs used when the stairs or slope is wet and slippery.
Slips and trips at work
The NEU and HSE share the view that the main obstacle to reducing the number of slips and trips accidents is the fact that the risks are not taken seriously. There is often an unfortunate but misplaced sense of inevitability about such accidents, leading to poor management control of this hazard. While such accidents are often viewed as likely to be trivial, they can result in permanent disability or even death in some cases. They can also impose significant costs upon employers, such as those detailed above for HSE intervention.
The cost of safety precautions should not be viewed as an obstacle to taking necessary action to tackle the risks of slip and trip accidents. The NEU and HSE both emphasise that many effective preventative measures can be instituted without great expense. Some potential control measures, such as installation of slip resistant floor surfaces, may be expensive. Raising awareness among employees and students, and instituting proper procedures for routine cleaning of floors and cleaning up of spillages, adequate lighting and wearing of sensible footwear are, however, easily achieved.
As noted above, the most common cause of accidents is the presence of substances on the floor, which cause slips. Detailed procedures therefore need to be in place for identifying, reporting and cleaning up spillages as well as for carrying out routine cleaning of floors.
Procedures need to consider, and protect against, all the potential risks which can arise. For example, recently mopped floors can be as slippery as significantly wet floors. It is, therefore, important to ensure that floors are given time to dry before people are allowed to walk on them or, at the very least, that warnings remain in place. Equally, it is important to avoid over-polishing of floor surfaces.
In some areas where spillages are particularly likely, however, it may be appropriate to provide safety floor surfaces in order to reduce the risks of slips and trips further. The HSE’s Approved Code of Practice to the 1992 regulations states that “a slip resistant coating should be applied where necessary”.
The next most common cause of accidents is the presence of obstructions on traffic routes such as external pathways, internal corridors, or routes within classrooms, dining rooms and other areas.
Obvious practical measures will include procedures to identify and deal with hazards such as broken or damaged floor surfaces and to remove problems such as snow or ice on external pathways. Other steps could include the provision of more storage facilities, which may reduce the likelihood of pedestrians tripping over coats and bags, boxes or other material obstructing their passage.
Footwear plays an important role in preventing slip incidents. Policies encouraging employees to wear suitable footwear have been shown to be highly effective in reducing slip and trip injuries. Such policies should cover all staff and pupils.
Adequate and appropriate lighting also plays an important role in preventing slips and trips. Poor lighting can obscure slip and trip hazards, while excessively bright or incorrectly placed lights can be equally hazardous.
Reporting and investigating accidents
Where accidents do occur, it is essential that they are immediately reported to the school’s management and the causes of every accident are investigated. In this way, lessons can be learned for the future and steps taken to improve procedures and precautions where appropriate. Safety representatives may also wish to exercise their statutory rights to investigate health and safety issues where accidents occur.
Accidents should be reported externally to the local authority/academy trust and, in the case of accidents which result in death or major injury or which result in an employee being off work for more than seven days, the HSE. This can be done online.
This is a change from pre-2013 Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR) as previously any work-related injuries which caused three or more days absence from work needed to be reported. Now such injuries must be recorded by the employer, and reported to the HSE if the absence reaches seven days.
For more information on injuries at work and the workplace legislation in place to prevent them, please download our full guidance: