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3rd July 2017

£400,000 fine after customer’s fatal slip in Co-op supermarket

The Co-op has been heavily fined following an accident in which a customer was killed in a slipping accident.

What happened and what are the lessons for other businesses when managing wet floors?

The accident

In July 2014, 74-year-old Stanley May visited the Truro branch of the Co-op. In the chilled food aisle, there was a wet area of flooring where water had been leaking from a faulty sandwich chiller. Mr May slipped over, striking his head. He died two days later in hospital.

How did this happen?

Supermarkets frequently have slippery floors, whether it’s a result of cleaning activities, dropped fruit, product spillages or leaking equipment. Generally, they’re well prepared for such events with mops and buckets, wet floor signs, matting etc. at the ready.

In this case, the chiller had been leaking for 44 hours prior to the accident but customers had been allowed unrestricted access to the area. Management had initially taken the correct approach by attempting to stop the leak at the source. Engineering had also been called in when the machine broke down, but it had continued to leak.

Staff had also put up a wet floor sign. However, given the amount of pooling water and the unrestricted access to the affected isle, this simply was not enough.

What should they have done?

In court, the prosecution explained that the wet area of flooring extended beyond the sign. However, regardless of where the sign was located, it was nowhere near sufficient as a means of risk control.

Precautions need to be devised taking into account those at risk. In a public access area where users include older visitors, the disabled and young children, the supermarket should have done more.

Other ‘reasonable’ measures in this situation could have included:
• Cordon the affected site off with barriers, hazard warning tape
• Using absorbent material
• Regular mopping

The Co-op pleaded guilty to a charge of failing to protect members of the public under S.3 Health and Safety at work etc. Act 1974. It was fined £400,000 and ordered to pay prosecution costs of £50,000.

Slips and trips

Slips and trips remain the single most common cause of major injury accidents in UK workplaces, therefore wet floors clearly need to be treated with urgency.

There is a logical hierarchy of control which must be applied, beginning with action that eliminates the hazard altogether, e.g. fixing the leak, removing the source or catching the liquid in a tray. If the wet floor cannot be avoided, or if there will be a delay in making the area safe, staff should follow pre-determined procedures.

Your procedure may need to include closing off access or supervising the area until the clean-up has taken place. This is particularly applicable where members of the public are present. Following the clean-up, the floor should be left as dry as possible and then a wet floor sign displayed.

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