According to specialist insurer Ecclesiastical, slips and trips are the most common cause of injury to people visiting churches in the UK. In fact, the insurer says they accounts for more than a third of all personal injury claims for its church customers.
While most slips and trips result in minor injuries, some can be much more severe and occasionally they can result in permanent disability, so it is important that those responsible for looking after the UK’s churches act sensibly to prevent injuries.
Unlike factories or building sites, church premises are generally low risk environments. When it comes to preventing slips and trips, adopting a sensible approach and taking straightforward precautions can make a real difference.
The precautions required will depend on individual circumstances including factors such as, the size of your church, the number of employees, volunteers or visitors you have and the nature of the activities you undertake. You may have to comply with certain aspects of health and safety law too.
Slip and trip hazards are not only present inside the church itself, but are common outside it too, for example in church halls, churchyards and car parks.
Below is a list of some of the most common hazards that can cause slips and trips.
Common internal hazards
- Loose, worn, frayed or unfixed carpets or rugs and other floor coverings
- Loose, damaged and uneven tiles, stone paving, flagstones and floorboards
- Pew Platforms
- Variations in the level of floors (for example ramps) or stairs (for example irregular steps, chancel steps etc.)
- Slippery floor materials and coverings, particularly in church halls
- Worn, steep and uneven steps and stairs
- Poor lighting, particularly on steps and stairs
- Lack of or poor handrails on steps and stairs
- Trailing electrical leads and other obstructions
- Cleaning activity that may make floors more slippery
- Wet or contaminated floors resulting from poor building maintenance (e.g. leaking roofs), spillages of food and drink or caused by visitors during wet weather.
Common external hazards
- Uneven footpaths, damaged paving stones and slabs
- Variations in the level of floors (for example ramps) or stairs (for example irregular steps)
- Gravestones, kerbs, ledger stones and other obstructions, particularly if they are obscured by long grass
- Protruding tree roots and undergrowth running across footpaths or other access routes
- Poor drainage of footpaths
- Algae or moss growing on stone paths
- Accumulation of wet leaves or loose materials on footpaths and other areas
- Poor lighting, particularly around external steps and stairs
- Lack of or poor handrails on external steps and stairs
- Unprotected or open graves prior to burial
- Rain, snow or ice on external footpaths and steps
The nature of church buildings
An historic church can present very different challenges to modern day buildings. Uneven floors, worn stone steps and areas that can be difficult to access are all natural features of these historic properties often making it challenging to implement common safety solutions. This is because consents or other permissions may be required to make any alterations to them.
With this in mind, Ecclesiastical worked with the Health and Safety Laboratory (part of the Health and Safety Executive) to understand these unique challenges and identify effective ways of preventing slips and trips on church premises. This collaboration, aimed to identify precautions churches could take that would be cost effective and sympathetic to the nature of church buildings, drawing on Ecclesiastical’s knowledge of historic properties and the expertise of the Health and Safety Laboratory.
Common problems, simple solutions
Remember that when thinking about the risk of slips and trips at your church you may need to consider both the internal and external areas. Here are some simple solutions to common slip and trip hazards:
Working with the building design
The fabric and design of your church is unique and should be celebrated but it can also provide hidden hazards. The picture to the left shows how easy it is to miss a step at the top of the church aisle.
Did you spot it? Visual clues are an easy way to help people spot changes in floor levels. In the picture to the left, you can see the difference adding a carpet can make to what people see.
Visitors during wet weather
Wet weather is a hazard throughout the year in the UK but as winter draws closer it might be time to review how you are managing these hazards in your church. Visitors can bring in rainwater, wet leaves, mud and other debris when they visit making the church floor more slippery for other visitors.
Adding a mat at the entrance of your church can help stop debris and water being walked through your church. Make sure that the mat is the correct size and positioned carefully to avoid creating another trip hazard. If the mat begins to curl at the edges make sure you replace it.
Where to find out more
If you want to have more detail, you can access all the information prepared by Ecclesiastical and the Health and Safety Laboratory on the Ecclesiastical website www.ecclesiastical.com. Ecclesiastical customers can also contact its Risk Management Helpline on 0345 600 7531 for further help and assistance.