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THE FALL GUYS

TECHNICAL & PRACTICE

A few weeks ago I mentioned the problem of risk aversion in the construction industry and the fact that, although the HSE would like us to specify slip-resistant flooring, no fl oor covering manufacturer worth its premium calls it that any more. Many flooring contractors and suppliers stay heroically silent on the issue for fear of litigation - or perhaps they are simply bemused that anyone thinks that terrazzo, linoleum or ceramic tiles aren't slippery. Those who do label their product, use the weasel expression 'anti-slip.' With the revised CDM legislation edging ever nearer, the BRE has published a number of documents that address this slippery subject.

First of all, at the end of the month, updated guidance on slip-resistance will be issued 1. Some suppliers, like Dunhouse Quarries in Durham, already provide their products with a full technical specification, including a USRV (Unpolished Slip Resistance Value). This value is obtained by laboratory testing with a swinging rubber pendulum, which records the 'slipperiness' by virtue of a 'roughness meter.' This might all sound a bit Heath Robinson, but it does give a quantifiable measure that can be compared across materials and locations.

The UK Slip Resistance Group is celebrating its 20th anniversary and is finally being taken seriously now that the climate of risk aversion means specifiers need a benchmark value to satisfy clients, the new CDM coordinator and insurers.

Secondly, 'Proprietary nosing for non-domestic stairs' 2 is a useful guide that explains the factors necessary for effectiveness and legal duty, including contrast, tactility, size, fitting, etc. Since about 100,000 people every year are injured due to slipping on, or falling down, non-domestic stairs - and there are about 100 fatalities - there is some merit in getting it right.

Not to be outdone, the HSE is running a national initiative this month to raise awareness of fall and trip hazards, focusing especially on the financial risks. Allegedly, 80 per cent of slips and falls result in fractures. The HSE has totalled the cost of these injuries at £500 million, by adding up alleged costs of absence on businesses, the direct and indirect healthcare costs and the effects on a whole range of externalities.

It might have been simpler to suggest that preventable accidents should be avoided because they are unpleasant for the victims. Perhaps they believe that everything needs to be reduceable to costs as a way of encouraging businesses to pay attention. But such a profitand-loss accounting process loses something in translation.

An example of this cost-management approach to hazard avoidance comes from Neath Port Talbot council in South Wales. Statistics show that the NHS spends more than £1 billion a year treating fractures caused by falls in the home, as well as on badly maintained pavements, etc. In 2003, some 14,000 people in the UK fell and broke their hips. The council is spending £1,500 giving away rubber-soled slippers to the elderly in its area.

The slippers are described as having 'good Velcro fastening, so they will not slip off'. It is also cheaper than healthcare.

If this catches on, maybe they could supply pensioners with large overcoats to prevent the incidence - and the troublesome treatment costs - of hypothermia in winter.

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