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Accidents at work can be costly as well as painful - for the victim and their school. Susannah Kirkman has advice on how to prevent nasty slip-ups

According to statistics from the Health and Safety Executive, more than 2,000 people injure themselves by falling over in schools or colleges every year.

Accidents are often caused by wet floors, and injuries can be severe enough to require hospital treatment and time off work to recover. The catalogue of accidents reported to the HSE last year include a canteen worker who slipped and broke her arm at a Kent school, and a security guard who fell through rotten wooden decking on a balcony at a Liverpool college.

John Cullen, head of the HSE's services sector, says: "Slips and trips can happen to anyone. Most injuries in the education sector result in strains and sprains."

But Mr Cullen warns that more serious injuries such as broken bones and head injuries can lead to complications, which can even be fatal. He says slip and trip accidents have not been taken seriously enough in the past, although they are a major cause of injury and a financial burden on the education sector because staff often have to take sick leave afterwards.

The HSE has produced guidance to reduce the risks to members of the public and employees in schools. It recommends that employers should:

* prevent slip and trip risks at the design stage by insisting on appropriate flooring with a slip-resistant surface;

* make sure spillages are mopped up immediately and ensure floors are dried after cleaning;

* establish a sensible-shoe policy for all staff and students;

* provide information and training so employees are aware of the risks and understand how to reduce them.

Any accident that prevents an employee from working for three or more consecutive days, or causes death or major injury, must be reported to the HSE. The definition of "major injury" includes fractures and any problem that requires the sufferer to be admitted to hospital for more than 24 hours.

Schools should keep their own records of all accidents, however minor, as an injured employee may have to claim Social Security benefits and will need proof that the accident occurred at work. Records will help employers to establish how an accident happened and prevent it from occurring again.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers also recommends that "near misses" should be recorded. "Research shows that an accident is often preceded by several near misses," the union advises.

Preventing Slip and Trip Incidents in the Education Sector is available free from HSE Books, PO Box 1999, Sudbury, Suffolk C10 2WA. Tel: 01787 881165; fax: 01787 313995

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