Slips, trips and falls are on the rise, particularly in the service department. This uptick can be attributed to some or all of the following factors:
- Dealerships are simply more hazardous than previously, either due to changing weather patterns or because attention to safety has waned.
- Dealerships are servicing a greater number of cars because more Americans are holding onto vehicles longer resulting in more customer traffic.
- These incidents are a result of “staged” or “preplanned” accidents that tend to increase during times of economic stress.
Whether customer and employee falls are accidental or intentional, these accidents share a common thread: they are expensive, time consuming, and alarming to dealership principals. Taking appropriate steps to protect customers and employees from basic slip and fall hazards will reduce loss exposure, prevent injury to people and protect your dealership’s bottom line.
Watch your step
Slip and fall claims are frequently a result of defects in elevated surfaces or unsafe floors. Prudent risk management begins by reviewing two common exposures.
"Elevated surfaces“ is a broad term used to reference stairs, steps, ramps and other non-flat floors or platforms. Dealers should identify and review these surfaces and ask the following key questions:
- Do signs highlight elevated surfaces and are those signs easy to read?
- Are surfaces free from defects such as torn or bumpy carpets and are they clear of any debris?
- Do these surfaces comply with applicable codes regarding height or other features?
- Are handrails sturdy and easy to see?
Dealerships experience a heavy volume of pedestrian traffic with a wide variance in mobility. Customers range from the young and strong to older or injured persons with aids such as canes, scooters and other aids. Visitors can be in three inch heels, slip flops, sneakers or flats. The great unifier to all of them is the floor upon which they walk. Therefore your dealership must pay particular attention to its floors. Important considerations include:
- Are floors painted or sealed in such a way as to minimize the potential for slips?
- Are floors at entrances and properly protected with mats or similar to deal with incoming moisture? Are mats secured to floor when the door opens and closes?
- Do floors meet current codes and ordinances?
- Does staff check the floors regularly for obstructions, spills or other hazards and are their efforts documented in a maintenance log?
- Is there a clearly delineated and communicated protocol for identifying and cleaning up floor spills and re-routing customer traffic while the clean-up occurs?
- Is customer traffic flow clearly marked from the parking lot to the dealership, service area, waiting area, etc?
Identifying these basic exposures and ensuring action is taken where necessary is important when it comes to slip and fall prevention.
Put yourself in your customer’s shoes
The best risk management evaluates hazards (things that increase the risks of loss) from different viewpoints. Enter your dealership tomorrow as if you were a service customer. What signs or directions pop out at you? Are pathways clearly marked? Can you easily find the service area if this is your first time at the dealership? Can you easily find a trash can or place to put out the cigarette or might it be easier to drop something on the ground? Are your eyes drawn away at the top of a staircase?
Ask your employees for their perspective too. What sorts of traffic patterns and accidents have they witnessed? Do they hear common complaints from customers about pathways, floors or obstructions? Taking stock anecdotally and applying common sense is a great supplement to formal checklists and protocols and can make all the difference when it comes to claims prevention.
Even the most careful dealership will experience claims from slips and falls. Your dealership should have a well-communicated protocol for what to do when any person on the premises experiences a fall. Talk to your insurance agent about what best practices should be instituted. At a minimum, be prepared to:
- Preserve evidence so that a proper examination of all the facts giving rise to the fall may be had. This can help determine causation or exoneration and also help prevent future reoccurrence.
- Document the physical condition of the accident location, including lighting, weather, warnings, handrails, and other mitigating factors. Take pictures immediately.
- Examine and provide video surveillance of the area involved in the incident, including photos of the alleged victim. This can help identify items that may have contributed to the fall such as untied shoes, long coats, pants or skirts, dark glasses, distracting cell phones or similar objects, etc.
- Identify the individuals most familiar with the incident and document their observations.
- Determine whether the dealership was aware of any identified hazards and whether and when action steps were undertaken as a result of that information.
- Review maintenance logs as well as records of any previous incidents at the same location.
The pattern is clear. The automobile industry is experiencing more slip and falls and more frequently arising from customers visiting the dealership for service. Customers safety is everyone's responsibility.