Why retailers need a spill response program

One of the most common accidents in a retail store is a slip and fall accident.

When customers enter your store, they are entitled to safety and to be free from harm while on the property. But all too often there are accidents, and the one that most often occurs in a retail store is a slip and fall accident, writes Mark Ferguson*.

In the US and many other areas of the world, it is estimated that as many as nine out of 10 slip and fall accidents are the result of negligence, and more specifically, employee negligence.

The fact that so many slip and fall accidents are the result of negligence is a key concern for retail store owners. A shopper simply falling in a store does not necessarily make a store liable for the accident.

But if whatever caused the accident could have been prevented; if store managers and employees were aware of the problem but took no action; or if they should have known about the problem, then the store could be held liable. So along with someone suffering injuries, often serious, the store owner could be out thousands of dollars in compensation.

Here are some more things we should know about slip and fall accidents. According to Australia’s Comcare, which promotes health and safety in the country, as well as other federal agencies:

  • There are thousands of serious and fatal slip and fall accidents occurring each year in Australia, and the cost of these accidents reaches into the billions of dollars.
  • Deaths from slip and fall accidents are five times more prevalent than deaths due to a fire.
  • Slips, trips, and falls are the second leading cause of workplace injuries, accounting for more than 20 per cent of all injuries.
  • In most cases, these slip and fall accidents are due to a lack of proper lighting, slippery floors, spills on floors, trip hazards, steep stairs, balconies without railings, and unsafe repair procedures.
  • A large number, if not the majority, of these accidents are entirely preventable.

Addressing the challenge

Now that we are better aware of this problem, what can store owners and managers do to help make their stores safer for their customers?  The first thing is to have some type of spill response program in place.  While we know slip and fall accidents can happen for a number of reasons, spills on the floor are very often at the top of the list.

There are several reasons why spills are such a serious problem in the retail sector.  However, it usually comes down to this: customers are looking at merchandise, not floors, so they simply don’t see the spill.

We are more likely to see a loose power cord over a floor than water spilled over the floor. If a bottle of milk in a grocery store breaks, and the milk now coats the floor, we can see it.  But what if the spill is some type of oil? That may be much harder to see and for this very reason, cause an accident.

So here are some of the basic steps we need to take as soon as we see a spill of water, oil, or something similar on a retail store floor:

  • Identify the spill. If it is hazardous or the result of someone getting sick, we need to follow standard hazardous waste procedures. But in most cases in a retail store, the spill will not be dangerous.
  • Place safety cones around the area; they should be at least six feet or more from the spill.
  • Sweep up or pick up any solid debris in the area.
  • With the area cleared, do not use a mop to clean up the spill; this will spread the spill over the floor. Instead, vacuum up the spill, using a wet/vac vacuum cleaner or an “auto vac” or similar cleaning system (as discussed later).

This last point needs a bit more explanation. Many cleaning consultants say that, along with spreading soils and oils, another problem using a floor mop, especially a string mop, is that we tend to over-wet them.

The thinking is that if the mop has a lot of cleaning solution, it will prove more effective at cleaning the area and that the area will be cleaned up faster. Faster, because the worker does not need to return to the mop bucket as often to rinse the mop, dip the mop in the bucket for more cleaning solution, wring it out, and return to the work area.

However, when using an overly wet mop, there is a perfect chance that solution will get under nearby store fixtures, display cases, and furniture.  This can damage floors, the finish on floors, spread the spill further, cause mold or mildew to grow, and attract bugs.  Further, an overly wet mop will leave the floor too wet.  Store owners want the area opened to customers as soon as possible and using an overly wet mop means the area will likely remain closed for an extended period of time.

As to vacuuming up the spill, an effective option is to use what is referred to as an “auto vac” or “SUV” cleaning system.  These can also be used to clean the entire floor area.

Similar to an automatic scrubber, these systems are walked over the floor, allowing a controlled amount of fresh cleaning solution to be released.  A microfiber pad at the rear of the machine provides agitation to loosen and collect soils, which are then vacuumed up by the machine. At least one manufacturer adds a wand to their system. The wand can be used to clean hard to reach floor areas as well as vacuum up any excess cleaning solution.

Once the work is completed, the floor should be dry.  However, to be on the safe side, leave the safety cones up for a few more minutes.

A few more pointers

Now that we know how to clean up a floor spill, a training program should be created, educating store personnel on what to do when a spill occurs.  This is invariably a team effort, and because of this, there should be a team leader ensuring everything is performed correctly.

Also, make sure all tools and equipment are readily at hand.  When a spill occurs, we do not have time to search the store looking for this equipment. This includes floor machines, as well as brooms, trash liners, and safety gear such as gloves.

Finally, once the clean-up operation is completed, examine how the accident happened, why it happened, and how it could have been prevented.  As important as it is to have a spill response program in place, a slip and fall prevention program is the best way to protect the health and safety of our customers.

Marc Ferguson is the International Business Development Manager for Kaivac. He can be reached at office@kaivac-emea.com.


This first appeared in the November/December issue of INCLEAN magazine.


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