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Harry Potter and the Laptop Bag Strap

While enjoying the luxurious standard class comforts of an LNER service on a recent trip to see a client in London, I found myself surrounded, not by the typically suited Wakefield to Kings Cross commuter population, but by groups of families and a significant number of children dressed as characters from Harry Potter. It wasn’t a dream, I was sure of that, after all, I was in Wakefield. I carried out a momentary self-sanity check, established it was half term, and quickly worked out that, rather disappointingly, I wasn’t actually going to Hogwarts.

I put the disappointment behind me quite quickly, opened up the laptop and got cracking with research on the latest changes and forthcoming developments in the not quite so magical world of health and safety legislation. At this moment, a miniature (I’d guess 5 years old) Harry Potter flew down the centre aisle of the carriage and was taken out by a trap left by the gentleman in the seats opposite me (It wasn’t Voldemort, I checked). The straps of that laptop bag left carelessly in the aisle, combined with the energy and enthusiasm of a 5-year-old on a family day out meant there’s now a bruise underneath the lightning bolt scar the poor kid had painted on his head!

We’ve all done it (or at the very least we’ve seen it), we’ve slipped, tripped or fallen at some point and the consequences have varied greatly from mild hilarity & minor embarrassment, at best, right through to serious physical harm and even life changing injuries at the worst. As the winter draws in and we’re travelling and working in diminishing daylight, we need to pay this risk a bit of attention.

Quick throwback to a Health & Safety incident I encountered during my early years in the H&S business… It’s important to remember that slips, trips, and falls can happen to anyone, at any time however inconvenient – and as I mentioned they can have wide ranging consequences. I want to tell you the, now almost legendary, tale of the Regional HSE Advisor who tripped over a torn carpet section during, and I promise this is not made up, a slips trips and falls audit of a premises they were responsible for. Now on this occasion we were lucky, there were no consequences – no harm was caused but a good and proper Near Miss investigation found that both a lack of maintenance, a lack of action taken when building defects were reported by staff and a number of light bulbs which had long since emitted their last flash of brilliance – all contributed to what wasn’t, but could have been, a nasty injury.

This particular incident also gave us a classic combination of immediate incident causes, taking both some “unsafe conditions” with the lack of adequate lighting & the presence of a flooring defect and an “unsafe act or behaviour” in the form of a HSE Advisor paying more attention to the carefully crafted audit form in front of him rather than looking where he was going. I must point out the aforementioned HSE Advisor was not me, but I should confess to having slipped or tripped down the stairs at home twice now in the last 20 years, each time breaking a bone and each time because I was attempting to carry too much down the stairs at once…Lesson Learned? Maybe, we will see.

As well as premises defects and flooring conditions people need to be reminded to look where they are going; safe arrangements need to be in place to ensure employees aren’t forced to rush and run or take chances carrying excessive loads up and down stairs.

Slips, Trips and Falls remain, based on the latest workplace accident statistics from the Health & Safety Executive, the leading type of workplace accidents which result in RIDDOR reportable severity injuries to workers. 29% of those injured in workplace accidents which cause an injury serious enough to warrant notification to the Health & Safety Executive suffer that injury as a result of a slip, trip or fall on the same level – and when you see that 65000 plus injuries of this severity level were reported in the period – there are a serious number of employees slipping, tripping and falling and suffering serious consequences.

Of course, these injuries come with potentially serious impact on the lives of those affected, as well as a serious impact on the employer and their insurer who could potentially be on the receiving end of a claim for compensation.

Overall, as an employer and operator of a business we have legal duties (I’m referring to The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999) to protect the Health & Safety of all of those who may be affected by our activities, this includes ensuring that we complete suitable and sufficient risk assessments and reduce the risk of harm from reasonably foreseeable hazards as far as we reasonably practicably can – this includes slip trip and fall hazards – they need to be identified in risk assessments, and suitably controlled!

Furthermore, the Workplace Health, Safety & Welfare Regulations 1992 make clear specific requirements of routes for pedestrian travel – including the requirement to avoid conditions which give rise to the potential for a person to slip trip or fall.

With this in mind do you know that the risks from slips, trips and falls are identified in your risk assessments? What measures have you put in place to control the risks at your premises, and when was the last time you checked they were still working? How are you managing the maintenance, cleaning programmes and upkeep of your premises in order to ensure that everything reasonable is being done to prevent conditions arising which could create a slip, trip or fall incident?

You certainly need to be aware of some of the common risk areas and conditions. Of course, there are slippery floors and surfaces to manage where surfaces are unintentionally or in the case of cleaning, intentionally, made wet by water or other fluids and substances – you need to consider whether the flooring is of a type suitable to mitigate the risk where there is a potential for it to get wet.  Have you got good arrangements in place for prompt action on spillage containment and clean up – and do your cleaning schedules and processes minimise slip risks on clean wet floors? Dry, dusty floors contaminated with powders present a risk, as do obstructions in walkways – those permanently in place and those left lying around due to poor housekeeping. Trailing cables, handbags, coats and other items in and around offices and workstations need a close looking at, as do the arrangements for adequate lighting and reporting and replacement of failed lights and lamps. Changes in levels, if not clearly marked or indicated as well as uneven surfaces need to be identified and steps taken to reduce risk.

It’s now November, the risks from adverse weather conditions should be high on your radar. Safe arrangements for car park snow and ice clearance and suitable entrance mats which don’t in themselves create a trip hazard need sorting now, don’t get caught out!

Harry Potter type glasses