When thinking about how to prevent accidents at work, you’ll need to use risk assessments to identify and minimise hazards, consult with your staff about any risks they have noticed and train them to follow the right procedures, and regularly examine your workplace for potential causes of accidents.
We’ve set out below some of the most common ways accidents occur at work (slips and trips, manual handling, working at height and working with chemicals) and suggested ways to prevent accidents at work. Make sure you conduct risk assessments regularly and review them if your workplace circumstances change; you can find further guidance on conducting risk assessments in our latest blog.
How to prevent accidents at work
Look out for potential slips and trips
Use the following list of suggested steps to help prevent slips and trips at work, but make sure you also take your workplace’s particular circumstances into account:
1. Keep floors clean and clear
Good housekeeping and a regular cleaning schedule will help prevent accidents at work. Use wet floor signs or keep people away from wet areas if floors cannot be dried after cleaning.
Keep traffic routes clear so that people do not trip over things. For example, you might:
- have a policy requiring staff to unpack and put away deliveries immediately rather than leaving them near the door;
- provide sufficient bins and storage areas;
- regularly check for trailing cables; or
- ask staff to report any slip or trip hazards straight away.
2. Combat bad weather
Try to prevent rainwater making your floors slippery by using doormats, keeping doors closed where possible or adding a canopy over your entrance. Designate an area for wet umbrellas by the entrance to prevent drips.
3. Undertake proper maintenance
Warn people of uneven flooring, steps etc where appropriate (eg you could use a bright colour on the edge of a step and make sure the area is well-lit). Fix any problems promptly.
4. Provide handrails
You must provide suitable handrails for staircases unless you cannot fit one without it getting in the way.
5. Don’t forget about outdoor areas
Your legal obligations to deal with slips and trip hazards includes areas that people have to use to access your workplace (lobbies, corridors, stairs, etc), so don’t forget about those areas when considering your risk reduction strategy. If you share these areas with other businesses, you must co-ordinate with them to implement a proper strategy between you.
For example, you might:
- grit or salt outside areas in icy weather, or provide people with an alternative route;
- fix, highlight or cordon off any maintenance problems like holes or uneven paving; and
- ensure that outside lighting is good enough to see any hazards.
Avoid manual handling where possible
When considering how to prevent accidents at work, you must take precautions to prevent your employees from being injured when lifting or moving things so far as you reasonably can. You must avoid manual handling where possible, and if it can’t be avoided, assess the dangers to prevent the risk of accidents at work.
Exactly what is appropriate will depend on the particular circumstances of your business, but could include:
- reducing the amount of manual handling required as much as possible;
- training staff in proper techniques;
- providing suitable lifting and handling aids;
- adjusting your systems of work eg requiring staff to work in pairs, increasing the number of breaks or rotating tasks;
- making sure employees have appropriate clothing and footwear for doing the job;
- making sure only physically suitable employees do manual handling;
- sending employees for health checks if they are at risk of injury; and
- ensuring the work environment does not cause problems, eg:
- checking flooring for uneven or damaged areas or sudden changes in level;
- providing adequate lighting;
- avoiding requiring manual handling in extremes of hot or cold.
Our Q&A provides further guidance on the proper technique when lifting and suggested maximum weight limits.
Prevent accidents from working at height
Working at height is when a person is working anywhere that they could fall and be injured if precautions are not taken. Work above ground level clearly qualifies, as does work near an edge or fragile surface that the person might fall through. Perhaps less obviously, work next to a hole in the ground can also be work at height.
If your risk assessment has identified occasions when people may be working at height, you must take appropriate action to protect them, as far as reasonably practicable. You must:
Minimise the need for staff to work at height
Don’t ask staff to work at height if there is a reasonable alternative way of doing things.
Take steps to prevent falls
Ensure the work is properly planned and supervised, for example by:
- using existing safe places of work where possible rather than creating new places of work at height;
- checking weather conditions and cancelling work if it isn’t safe;
- training staff where required to ensure they are competent to carry out the work; and
- selecting appropriate equipment for the job (at its simplest, this may just mean providing a stepladder rather than letting staff stand on chairs or desks).
Minimise the seriousness of any falls
You can do this by minimising the distance of any potential falls where possible, or using protective equipment to stop people being hurt, eg installing safety nets, ropes or a fall-arrest system. Staff must be properly trained in how to take appropriate preventative measures and in how to use any safety equipment.
Limit the use of ladders
Ladders aren’t suitable for jobs that will take more than 30 minutes. You must also limit the use of ladders to people who know how to use them properly (on-the-job training is fine), and ensure that anyone using a ladder at work carries out a visual check of it to ensure it is not damaged or slippery.
If you have staff working at height, there will likely be a risk of falling objects. You must protect people from this risk so far as reasonably practicable. As a minimum, stopping anyone walking underneath people working at height will be important. Consider how equipment and loose materials can be secured and make sure your systems of work and staff training cover minimising the risk to people below as well as the risks to the person working at height.
Minimise the use of cleaning chemicals and common hazardous substances
If you have any hazardous chemicals or other hazardous substances at your workplace, you must take reasonably practicable steps to protect people from them.
There is no one size fits all approach – you must act appropriately for the specific circumstances of your business and the risks you have identified in order to prevent accidents at work. Consider the following:
- keeping the workplace well ventilated;
- providing suitable washing facilities;
- training your staff in proper use or handling of any hazardous substances if required; and
- limiting people’s exposure to these substances as much as possible, for example by:
- providing gloves, facemasks, etc;
- locking hazardous substances away when not in use;
- using the minimum effective concentrations of chemicals, and not storing unnecessarily large quantities.
Keep an eye out for our upcoming blogs on how to record and report accidents at work.
Marion joined Sparqa Legal as a Senior Legal Editor in 2018. She previously worked as a corporate/commercial lawyer for five years at one of New Zealand’s leading law firms, Kensington Swan (now Dentons Kensington Swan), and as an in-house legal consultant for a UK tech company. Marion regularly writes for Sparqa’s blog, contributing across its commercial, IP and health and safety law content.