Slip And Fall: An Ounce Of Prevention

January 5, 2007

By Brian Babcock

The exceptionally mild winter in Thunder Bay has lead us to observe that systems for outdoor maintenance (clearing snow or ice, preventing run off from freezing) may need to be updated. What was reasonable for one set of conditions may be inadequate in milder weather. For instance, salt and chemical de-icers work in specific temperature ranges and for specific risks, but may not be suitable for current conditions.

We have written previously about the fact that occupiers of property (who might be owners, tenants, residents) have a positive duty in law to take all reasonable steps to keep the property under their control reasonably safe for all users.

This is a high standard, but does not create absolute liability for all slip and fall injuries. One common defence arises where the occupier can show that they had a reasonable system of inspection and maintenance in place, and that the system was followed at the time of the accident.

To succeed in this defence, occupiers of commercial property especially should have written procedures in place, a training program, regular supervision, and a written compliance record (often called a ‘sweep log’ in retail or grocery stores).

Anyone unfortunate enough to suffer a slip and fall injury should not accept that just because a system is in place, that it meets the standard imposed by law. If occupiers do not update their systems for changing conditions, compensation may be possible in a growing range of cases.

Among steps that occupiers should consider:

  • A thorough inspection of your property to look for dangers – broken downspouts, potholes, worn paving, cracked sidewalks, to name a few examples
  • Repair defects
  • A risk review by a professional (such as an insurance risk manager or an engineer, or a health and safety consultant)
  • Updated training for all staff and contractors
  • Reviewing and altering the timing and frequency of inspections
  • Varying the person who does inspections, to avoid complacency
  • Maintain a good supply of safety products and tools
  • Review record retention policies
  • A review of contracts with third party snow ploughing companies, cleaners, etc
  • Spot checks on the record keeping of contractors.

Fortunately, most slip and fall injuries are minor, but any injury is undesirable. In cases of serious injury, damages for pain and suffering, income loss, loss of earning capacity, health care, housekeeping, loss of care companionship and guidance by family members, or services provided by family or others, can be substantial.