Preventing Slips, Trips and Falls in Community Banks
Tips and Insights
September 21, 2016

Some of the costliest insurance risks associated with operating a community bank include robbery, the threat of employees embezzling money and fire damage to the facility. However, one of the largest –and least expected – liabilities faced by banks today is right beneath your toes: the open, spacious lobbies with polished stone and tile floors that leave bank patrons especially vulnerable to slips and falls.

A recent analysis by OneBeacon Insurance Group found that slips, trips and falls are a top cause of both liability and worker's compensation claims for financial institutions in the United States. Furthermore, with the younger generations turning to online banking in large numbers, the average age of customers banking on site is steadily growing older. Older customers face more mobility issues and, among the elderly, falls are the leading cause of injury and death – the likelihood of death from a fall increases six times for those over the age of 75.

Now more than ever, community banks need to take steps to identify and manage this often overlooked risk and mitigate potential hazards in and around their facilities that could cause a patron to lose their footing.

Create a Risk Management Strategy

While you can’t control a bank patron’s gait or footwear choice, the potential for falls can be reduced with the right prevention practices. The best defense against slips, trips and falls is through a strong risk management strategy, focusing on factors you can control such as the condition of walkways.

According to the National Floor Safety Institute, half of all slips and falls are caused by the condition of the floor. Performing a careful and thorough inspection of all walking surfaces and pathways, both internally and externally, is the first step to managing these risks.

Interior Exposures and Precautions

Reducing the potential for falls inside your facility means more than providing floor mats and marking wet spots with a caution sign. During inclement weather, floor mats must be monitored as elements like water and snow can quickly make a floor mat ineffective. Be sure to keep spare mats on hand, and designate employees to replace soiled and soaked mats when necessary. Make sure mats are properly secured to the floor by using a mat with a rubberized back or with a base that can be adhered to the floor to hold them safely in position.

Along with mats, carpets and rugs can deteriorate quickly. Examine the condition of carpets often, paying attention to wear and tear and replacing carpets once they become frayed, saggy or torn.

Floors should also be monitored to ensure they are cleaned and dressed properly. It’s important to realize that not all cleaning products are compatible with every floor. For example, cleaning products used on hardwood floors generally shouldn’t be used on stone or tile walking surfaces. It’s also a good practice to evaluate how and when floors are cleaned. Does water pool in a heavily used walkway when mopping? Do certain cleaning products or waxes create dangerously slippery surfaces? Before using a new cleaning product across entire surface, test floors to see how they react.

If it seems overwhelming to monitor these factors, professional floor safety auditing is available from Walkway Safety Auditors certified by the National Floor Safety Institute. (Check with your carrier to see if the cost is covered in your insurance policy.) In addition to identifying surfaces where slippage is likely, an audit can show where there are unexpected changes in elevation.

While banks are typically aware and recognize the potential for falls within the facility, the trip between the parking lot and building can present just as many hazards.

Exterior Exposures and Precautions

To identify potential exterior dangers, take an opportunity during the daylight and nighttime to examine conditions and observe the small details of how people move through your property. Pay close attention to sidewalks, stairs, ramps, parking lots and other areas that incur a high volume of traffic. More people using these paths mean more rapid deterioration. If any improper activity (e.g. skateboarding) occurs on your property and causes damage, be sure to repair the building or pavement.

Storm drainage and runoff can also create potential hazards for slips and falls. Wherever possible, use drains and gutters to divert water drainage away from walking routes. Certain drain openings can be covered in a slip resistant coating and have spaces narrow enough to prevent high-heeled shoes and small feet from slipping through. Additionally, determining where storm water runoff may occur can reduce hazards caused by debris buildup.

You can also reduce visible hazards by paying close attention to changes in surface elevation, such as ramp edges, curbs or speed bumps. Smooth down or mark surface elevations with safety paint to help draw attention to the hazards, employing professional paving help if needed.

Establish Accountability

Finally, the best way to maintain a safe walking environment is to make someone accountable for monitoring all surfaces. Create ownership of the issue by designating someone to be responsible for floors and walkways. You could even implement an employee training program to reinforce the value of maintaining a safe walking environment.  By doing so, it is less likely that an issue will be overlooked.

While you may not be able to control every potential hazard, you can reduce the risk. By creating and maintaining safe walkways for customers and employees, community banks can minimize the chance of costly and potentially dangerous falls.