Chapter 4: Building a Risk Management Plan for Your Cleaning Business
Part 3: Preventing Slip-and-Fall Injuries and Liabilities
According to the National Safety Council's "Slips, Trips and Falls Fact Sheet," 25,000 slip or fall accidents happen in the United States each day. For a small-business owner, this number represents the ever-present potential for lawsuits.
As we discussed in the previous section, slip-and-fall litigation can target everyone connected to the incident, including…
- The property owner.
- The business owner who rents the space.
- Your cleaning business.
- Your employees.
Even the floor finish manufacturer can be sued. And even if you put the proper warnings in place, the injured party can still sue you — which costs money even if you win.
Though you can't prevent people entering a building, you can take steps to minimize your cleaning business's liability exposures. Here are some prevention tips to incorporate into your risk management toolkit:
Taking Inventory of Potential Hazards
A shiny floor does not necessarily mean a slippery floor. Today, floor finishes are designed to protect surfaces, illuminate their appeal, and even increase the slip-resistance of a floor. It's the unwanted substances that are typically the culprits of most slips. For instance, the following substances could all lead to a nasty spill:
- Tracked-in rainwater or snow.
- Spilled coffee.
- Construction debris.
As a cleaning professional, it's important to note these hazards and keep an eye on the following high-risk fall areas:
- Entrances and exits.
- Ramps and stairways.
- Kitchens and food preparation stations.
- Walk-in freezers or refrigerators.
- Shower rooms.
- Supermarket produce sections.
- Healthcare and eldercare facilities.
- Pool decks.
- Places where the floor level is inconsistent.
- Areas damp during mopping or floor maintenance.
This list is just the beginning. A savvy risk manager, for example, knows that wood polish can settle into a floor and cause a slick spot. That's why you should keep an eye out for display cases and wooden surfaces. Potted plants can also leak water.
The takeaway is that there is no single list that accounts for every situation and hazard. Use your common sense, and keep your eyes peeled!
Reducing Slip-Fall Hazards
When cleaning floors, there are some activities you and your employees can do to reduce your liability exposures. Be sure to…
- Perform frequent spot cleaning. If an unexpected spill can't be taken care of immediately, be sure to surround the spot with warning signs.
- Use Wet Floor signs. These signs should be placed at both ends of the work area and be clearly visible to passersby. Place the warning signs outside of any doors that open to the cleaning area, too. In a pinch, you can use yellow or orange mop buckets or pylons to denote a slippery surface and caution others. Leave these warnings in place until the floor is completely dry.
- Only strip floors after business hours. Floor stripper is extremely slippery, which makes this task dangerous for both passersby and employees. Before stripping a floor, be sure the area is clearly blocked off and that the employee dons the appropriate protective attire, such as abrasive-pad attachments for shoes. Because of the chemical and high-risk nature of the work, it's best performed when facility traffic is minimal.
- Burnish floors when appropriate. Burnishing a floor can actually increase slip-resistance. Use floor polish as directed by the manufacturer.
- Use floor mats. Walk-off mats can reduce the risk of slips and falls where water and outdoor debris are tracked in at facility entrances and exits. Though these mats can add traction, they should be cleaned and maintained regularly.
- Conduct frequent inspections. Designate an employee to inspect the facility for potential hazards. For instance, they might check out floor surfaces and look for cluttered areas. Create an inspection checklist so that your risk management efforts are documented.
- Train your employees. Be sure that your employees understand cleaning protocol and how to reduce slip-and-fall accidents. Communicate the potential liabilities associated with these incidents so that everyone understands the importance of reporting and handling unsafe conditions.
The more thoroughly you document your efforts, the better equipped you'll be to defend your business in a liability suit.
And don't forget — even the most thorough risk management plan may not prevent your business from being named in a frivolous suit. But when you have the appropriate insurance coverages, you can rest assured that you won't have to finance the hefty legal defense bill out of pocket.
Next: Chapter 4.4: When Do You Need to Update Your Maid or Janitorial Insurance Policies?
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