5 Ways restaurants and retailers can reduce slip, trip, and fall risks

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Slips, trips, and falls remain a major risk for retail and restaurant companies. Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that in 2019 alone, there were more than 52,000 such incidents that required restaurant and retail employees to take days off from work. And Marsh’s most recent Restaurant Loss Cost Trends Report shows that slips, trips, and falls remain the leading cause of employee injury by severity.

Whether due to slippery surfaces, obstacles, improper footwear, or another reason, a slip, trip, or fall can lead to dire health consequences for the affected employee. Employers too may face serious repercussions, ranging from workers’ compensation costs to customer claims to reputational damage.

Despite their prevalence (see Figure 1), retail and restaurant companies can take several actions to reduce the risk to their employees, which can also spill over to paying customers.

Consider your exposures

A supermarket employee on his third day of work is pushing a cart piled high with merchandise ready to be stocked on shelves. The cart blocks his line of vision as he turns into an aisle, and he doesn’t notice a broken bottle of sesame oil on the ground. He slips, hurting his back and cutting his hand on the shattered glass. The cart topples over, the impact shattering jars of condiments.

Across town, an employee is rushing through a packed restaurant, carrying three orders of sizzling food. She stumbles on a customer’s handbag. As she tries to regain her footing, she twists her ankle, and loses her grip on the plates, with a plate of fajitas spilling on a nearby customer.

The above examples may be fictitious, but they could easily play out in reality — and their repercussions can be extensive and far-reaching. The costs for both organizations could extend beyond any medical expenses incurred by the employees — and in the restaurant’s case, the customer — to include the need to cover extra shifts while employees are out recuperating, the cost of spoiled food and merchandise, management of claims, and other indirect expenses, including potential loss of sales while an area is being cleaned up.

Identify and address risks

Slips, trips, and falls are major cost generators. For both retail and restaurant companies, these incidents tend to be among the most costly workers’ compensation claims and can lead to general liability challenges as well. The recent Restaurant Loss Cost Trends Report shows that slips, trips, and falls are the top cause of general liability claims for restaurants, with an average cost of close to $11,000 per claim.

"Slips, trips, and falls contribute to 37% of total incurred workers’ compensation claims costs and 36% of all GL claims for restaurant companies.

Source: 2020 Restaurant Loss Cost Trends Report

Although not all incidents can be prevented, retail and restaurant companies can take steps to reduce the danger to employees and customers, and minimize their total cost of risk. Among others, retailers and restaurants should consider the following actions.

1.       Develop effective training

A detailed orientation program and ongoing training are essential to instill and continually remind employees of good habits. Because many incidents take place when employees are relatively new and still unfamiliar with their tasks and the workplace, an in-depth onboarding program is critical, especially where there is high staff turnover. Employers should also consider behavioral-based safety observation programs that emphasize positive reinforcement of safe behaviors to reduce the risk of injury and associated costs.

2.       Carry out a gap assessment

Although slips, trips, and falls can happen anywhere, the specific causes and level of risk tend to vary by location. All companies should conduct periodic safety management system assessments that evaluate the effectiveness of safety programs, policies, and procedures as well as employee behaviors, floor surfaces, and cleaning protocols. A customized mitigation strategy should be designed to address identified gaps.

3.       Establish visibility across your premises

Risks can lurk in every corner of a store or restaurant, and it’s important that all areas where people work are checked regularly and thoroughly to immediately address any potential problems. Train employees to look for and call attention to uneven surfaces, such as rolled up carpets, broken tiles, wet areas, and obstacles blocking walkways. Restaurants and retailers with substantial slip risks, such as supermarkets, should also consider routine floor inspection/monitoring programs and continuously emphasize the importance of wearing the appropriate footwear during shifts — for example, by instituting slip-resistant shoe programs. Cameras may also help you identify hazards and employee or customer actions prior to, during, and following an incident. And be sure to look beyond your doors for potential dangers — even if the inside of your premises are dry and clean, risks may still lurk right outside. Rain, snow, or ice that is brought inside by customers or employees can create hazards that require immediate attention.

4.       Identify system deficiencies

The way you respond to an incident is critically important. Employers should carry out an in-depth analysis to detect potential gaps in their health and safety management processes. This process analyzes and audits your protocols, regulatory compliance programs, and safety processes, identifying any deficiencies that need to be addressed and taking corrective action in a timely manner. An effective root cause analysis should help organizations identify system deficiencies and the actions needed to avoid a similar incident. Although this can be a challenging and complex process, it can be fundamental to a successful safety program.

5.       Take a data-centric approach

Keeping an eye on your workers’ compensation and general liability claims data can help you identify trends that point to areas for potential improvement. For example, an increase in slips in a particular region may lead to the discovery that a new cleaning vendor is using inappropriate products. You can elevate your data analysis by creating a dashboard that identifies leading and lagging data critical to the safe operation of a site. Distribute the dashboard to leadership as a means of communicating the effectiveness of the company’s safety management system. 

Restaurant and retail companies are unlikely to completely eliminate the risks of slips, trips, and falls. However, they can take action to significantly reduce the risks, leading to safer environments for both employees and customers, and ultimately driving down their total cost of risk. 

This article was prepared by Marsh’s Retail/Wholesale Practice, with contributions from Marsh Advisory’s Workforce Strategies and Consulting Solutions practices.