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While the retail sector has seen extensive changes over the years, safety experts say that slips and falls remain a major — and expensive problem — for the industry.
Even with serious evolving risks such as terrorism and gun violence, tumbles still carry their weight in exposures, experts say.
But as technology and data analytics evolves, retailers and their insurers are better able to manage the risk.
“We all look at things like retail crime, active shooters and terrorists, all the nasty things that can possibly happen in the retail environment,” said Robert Moraca, vice president of loss prevention for the Washington-based National Retail Federation, a retail trade association. “But what I found interesting is that when you get down to the basics, slips and falls are still big issues for retailers.”
Slip-and-fall claims occur with more frequency than severity, according to a CNA Financial Corp. study released in October, which can add up to a sizable financial headache. Going by the frequency data, the report said, retail trade and real estate businesses have the greatest potential for slip-and-fall accidents.
CNA said it conducted a two-year study of hard surface floors in commercial workplaces and found half of the surveyed sights did not produce a dynamic coefficient of friction level — the measurement of a surface’s slip resistance while in motion — above the minimum threshold set by the American National Standards Institute.
“Simple strategies can save you money by protecting the safety of your employees and clients, as well as your reputation,” the report said.
The strategies include testing floors for slip resistance and measuring DCOF levels with a tribometer, a device that determines friction in sliding. Retailers should also use cleaning products that are compatible with the flooring, CNA said, and apply them as directed by the manufacturers. In addition, CNA advised business owners to promote awareness by removing walkway obstacles, put up signs where the floor elevation changes, and place mats near entrances that are long enough to remove any contaminants from shoes.
In 2016, more than 229,000 private-industry employees missed work due to injuries from a slip, trip or fall, according to the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, down from 238,610 the prior year.
William Zachry, San Carlos, Californiabased senior fellow at Sedgwick Claims Management Services Inc.’s Sedgwick Institute and former risk manager for grocery store chain Albertsons Cos., said that addressing slips and falls benefits both a retailer’s workers compensation and casualty claims.
“It’s a safety program that works on both sides of the fence, which is very important,” said Mr. Zachry.
Safety experts said due diligence, data analytics and technology can all help reduce the risks for workers and guests or customers in retail establishments.
“One of the key things is choosing the right floor surface,” said Jeff Sizemore, Cincinnati-based senior vice president with the workforce strategies practice of Marsh Risk Consulting, a unit of Marsh L.L.C. “You have to choose the right floor surface because what happens is folks within the organization will choose for its aesthetics — it’s pretty, it’s shiny, it’s colorful, etc. — with no regard to slip resistance.”
Mr. Sizemore added that choosing the product cleaning product is the other part of the battle with floors.
“It’s not always a one-size-fits-all when it comes to cleaning products,” he said. “You can use the wrong product on the wrong floor surface and make it more slippery.”
Mr. Sizemore also suggested having the in-house safety person or safety consultant perform testing on a floor service prior to purchase to ensure that it meets or exceeds tolerable slip resistance standards.
“For anyone in retail, it is always the number one cause of loss,” said Rooney Gleason, Portland, Oregon-based president of U.S. grocery and retail for Argo Insurance, a unit of Bermuda-based Argo Group International Holdings, Ltd. “It’s the biggest issue out there, from a cost standpoint as well as a frequency standpoint.”
Mr. Gleason said Argo Risk Tech, which was introduced last year, is a custom-tailored app that allows employees to use smart devices to log their movements around the store as they check for any potential problems.
“You’re looking for hazards on the floor,” Mr. Gleason said. “You’re looking for water, you’re looking for spills. We place markers strategically around the premises. And you get a bucketload of data that’s time- and date-stamped. It’s a pretty basic system: If you’re walking around and you’re finding hazards and you’re eliminating them, people don’t fall down.”
Electronic location markers are placed strategic inspection points that focus on places where hazards are most likely to occur. The app prompts employees with specific questions about the condition of the area, such as the presence of any spills or other hazards. The employee then ticks off the area as being inspected and moves on.
Mr. Gleason said incident reporting has been added to the platform so if someone has an accident inside the store, store managers use the same smart device to get the injured person’s information, take pictures of the area and upload it all to claims adjusters.
“In terms of prevention, housekeeping is extremely important,” said Wayne Maynard, product director of workers compensation, ergonomics and tribology for Liberty Mutual Holding Co. Inc. in Hopkinton, Massachusetts. “Prevention needs to be proactive. It requires participation from everyone in the organization, from senior-level management of a store down to the management supervisors and employees. They all have a role.”
Mr. Maynard noted the importance of prevention of slips through the design of the property.
“We’re involved with architects, design and construction engineers,” he said, “in designing and installing a floor that is indeed slip resistant and intended for the environment. Right flooring and right slip resistant walkway services are important — if you’re putting a polished vinyl composition tile where you’re going to have a lot of water present, that’s going to be a slippery floor.”
Cindy Smail, Southfield, Michigan-based senior vice president with the workforce strategies practice of Marsh Risk Consulting specializing in the restaurant industry, said increasing amounts of data is helping the industry.
“There’s more and more data out there that’s available on claims and where people fell and what they were doing when they fell,” she said. “I think restaurants are learning more about what’s happening and where they might be able to predict the next thing that’s going to happen.”
Ms. Smail said some restaurants use data to focus on specific locations where the fall occurs and capturing data on slip resistant shoes that were being worn when the incident occurred. Having this understanding, she said, “allows for restaurants to fine tune floor surface selection, evaluate floor cleaning methods and implement sole checks on slip resistant shoes.”
While most experts agree that the majority of slip-and-fall cases are legitimate, fraud is always a consideration. Frank Scafidi, director of public affairs for the National Insurance Crime Bureau in Des Plaines, Illinois, said fraud has been a “consistent irritant” for the insurance industry.
“More often it’s a problem for small mom-and-pop-type operations, commercial entities or smaller stores,” he said. “Not that it doesn’t happen, of course, with the big box stores, but these days most places have internal security and video surveillance, which lends itself quite nicely to defusing these types of claims.”
Mr. Scafidi said modern technology and “old fashioned shoe-leather type of investigation” are two ways of combating fraud, particularly when the fraudsters work in pairs.
“You can find sometimes that these people who are supposed to be just random people in the store are friends on Facebook,” he said. “Social media is a problem for fraudsters, because people like to brag about that kind of thing.”
In 2007, a grease spill at a Walmart Inc. store in Greeley, Colorado, wound up costing the Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailing giant nearly $10 million.