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Slips, trips and falls by customers and visitors are the major General Liability risks facing financial services businesses.

By Stan Bernard, Head of Financial Institutions and Professional Services, U.S. Middle Market, Zurich North America

Financial services firms — from depository institutions to insurance brokers, asset managers and others — are not usually perceived as having the same levels of physical risk as factories or construction sites. After all, a financial services office environment would seem to be one of the safest venues customers might visit. But is it? Based on a study of Zurich claims data,1 84% of slip, trip and fall accidents in the financial services sector are coming from a General Liability claim. If you’re in financial services, your customers are the ones getting injured most often … not your employees.

Surprising data like this demonstrates that it’s critical for financial services firms to make sure they provide customers with the safest possible environment during their visits. Preventing slip, trip and fall injuries is a responsibility that should be taken very seriously. Not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because the costs of these incidents can impact your bottom line.

Based on Zurich’s study of the most frequent causes of slip, trip and fall claims, we’ve identified the following potential risk factors for this all-too common and costly General Liability claim:

Be aware of your floor characteristics

The type of flooring installed in and around your facility is your first factor of risk. Remember that hard, smooth surfaces such as vinyl composition tile (VCT), ceramic tile, terrazzo, marble and granite can appear slip-resistant when dry but can become very slippery when wet. Customers entering a bank lobby or some other financial services building on a rainy day, or just after an unseen coffee or soft-drink spill, will be at risk of a fall. Natural stone, asphalt, brick, broom-finished concrete and carpet typically provide much better slip resistance when wet, but these surfaces are more likely to be external to the areas where you conduct business.

Watch for spills and contaminants

Any foreign substance or contaminant on a walking surface, including that coffee or soft-drink spill mentioned above, may adversely affect slip resistance. Also, consider any contaminants that might be tracked into your building from outside. When discovered, any contaminants should be cordoned off and cleaned as soon as possible.

Ensure public spaces are in good repair

Whatever your floor is composed of, the physical characteristics of a surface will often determine whether they are safe or an accident waiting to happen. Raised or recessed sidewalk edges or curbing, potholes in parking lots, painted surfaces, loose carpeting, loose or broken tiles, holes or pits on the surface, or unusual wear can spell trouble. Surface changes can also occur on well-maintained walkways with transitions from one type of material to another, such as stepping from a carpeted surface onto tile.

Keep foot traffic areas “on the level”

Level change means a height change of a floor or exterior walking surface from one level to another. That single step down could be enough to surprise a visitor who is not paying attention. Even if the change is just a few centimeters, it could be enough to cause a stumble.

Avoid obstacle courses

Anything protruding into your customers’ normal walking paths — such as extension cords, product storage, file boxes, equipment and other objects — could be a prescription for trouble. Make sure traffic areas are clear of obstructions.

Light the way to safety

Even the most benign changes in height or surface consistency can become hazardous if changes are not easily visible. Inadequate lighting, glare, shadows, bright lights and color contrasts can blind a customer long enough for some other factor to cause a fall. Make sure all customer and pedestrian walkways are well-lit and clear of hazards.

Elevate customers safety

Any elevation change of three or more steps is considered to be “stairs,” and falls from stairs of any height can result in serious injury. Escalators and elevators present similar hazards. And when not running, escalator steps do not meet the standard step geometry for stairs. Also, elevator thresholds should be level with the elevator carriage and be slip-resistant.

Be aware of unusual features

Distractions can cause falls. Alarms/buzzers, strobe lights or flashing lights, high pedestrian and vehicle traffic, large windows, and even decorative lighting can interrupt attention just long enough for a slip, trip or fall to occur. Do a walkthrough of your facility to identify potential distractions, addressing them whenever possible.

Customers are only human

Even in the safest environments, human factors can play a role in accidents and injuries. A physically capable person may be unimpeded by surface conditions that could spell a serious slip or fall hazard to a person with limitations or disabilities. Be aware of the “human factors” that can play into falls.

Step up to the challenge of slips, trips and falls

As with all the business risks financial services companies face, slip, trip and fall accidents deserve to be understood, assessed and mitigated. Managers must impress on employees the importance of being aware of fall hazards, cleaning up spills, keeping walkways free of obstacles and calling out any hazards they see. Knowing that up to 84% of all middle market financial services General Liability claims are associated with slips, trips and falls should be motivation enough to keep the customer environment safe at all times.

For additional information about assessing and preventing slip, trip and fall injuries, download Zurich’s Slip, Trip and Fall Risk Assessment Guide to help survey potential loss locations at your business. The results can be used to develop corrective actions and further focus loss-prevention efforts.

For more information, visit Zurich’s webpage for solutions and insights for the financial services industry.

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1. Zurich Claims data pulled for the Middle Market Business Unit, from date of loss January 2016 through May 2021.