A leaky water fountain. A small crack in the pavement. A spilled drink.
Situations like these may seem innocuous, but they can lead to slips, trips, and falls—the most common type of incident family entertainment centers (FECs) experience, says Rich Powers, senior vice president of risk services at American Specialty Insurance & Risk Services Inc., in Roanoke, Indiana.
With slips, trips, and falls, injuries range from minor bumps and bruises to major head trauma and broken bones. “The industry has seen some high-dollar injuries,” he says.
Powers offers eight factors to consider with slips, trips, and falls, including liability, mitigation, and incident report writing.
For guests to establish their case and prove liability, three things must happen, Powers notes. First, for a slip, there must be a substance on the floor, and for a trip, a defect to the walking surface. Second, they must show the injury occurred as a result of the slip or trip exposure. Third, the facility caused the hazard, had prior knowledge of the hazard’s presence, or should have known about the hazard.
“Should have known” can be broken into three categories: evidence that the exposure existed for a long time; evidence that employees saw the exposure (either walked past and did not report it, or maintenance staff knew but did not fix it); or evidence the facility does not have reasonable inspection procedures in place.
Inspections should occur around the facility before opening and throughout operating hours, Powers says. Examine walking surfaces for cracks, defects, puddles, or slick surfaces. Pick up trash on the grounds and in the parking lot.
Employees should be trained from day one that keeping the FEC safe and clean is in their job description, he says. In addition, managers should always have a dustpan and broom at the ready to scoop up debris.
Small Defects Matter
It does not take a major defect in the pavement or sidewalk for someone to trip, Powers says. A defect of a half-inch or greater may not be considered trivial and should be repaired.
Spill Response Plan
People will inevitably spill drinks on the floor (and do not expect them to tell you if they do). Be on alert for splashes of water, juice, and soda. Have a spill response plan in place to address the issue.
That means not throwing down an orange cone and forgetting about it, or spreading out the puddle even more with a mop. Get the area as dry as possible as soon as possible.
With major problems like a leaky roof, the area beneath should be roped off so guests cannot go anywhere near it.
Also, bathrooms represent a common trouble area for FECs with slips and falls, Powers says. Staff should inspect the bathrooms every 30 minutes at the very least to make sure all surfaces stay clean and dry.
Injuries Impact All Age Groups
Do not think of only the healthy teen as your guest, says Powers, stressing the importance of preventative measures and swift remediation. “Elderly patrons may be more susceptible to falling and more susceptible to serious injury.”
Look for Trends
Frequency breeds severity, Powers says, so do not simply breathe a sigh of relief if 10 people slip in one spot and only need an ice pack or bandages; take action.
“It’s going to eventually happen where someone is going to get hurt seriously,” he says. “No matter how minor the injury, you should check it out. Eventually, you’re not going to dodge the bullet.”
Spike in Fraud Cases
Due to the current economic climate, FECs—like many other types of facilities—have seen an increase in fraud cases. A camera system can be a pricy, yet effective, method to protect parks from fraudulent claims.
In some situations, guests have claimed they slipped or tripped and video evidence has proven that did not occur, Powers says.
If cameras run outside the FEC’s budget, take photos—lots of them. When a guest says she slipped or tripped, immediately go to the spot where it happened and check it out.
“Even if the claim is bogus, it will cost you to defend it,” Powers says. “The better prepared you are, the better chance you have for it to go away.”
Powers says two of the biggest areas where FECs need improvement are incident investigation and incident reporting skills. Beyond using camera footage and taking photos, managers need to speak with the injured guest and witnesses to obtain a clearer idea of what exactly happened.
With report writing, choose words carefully. For instance, a customer says, “I slipped and fell in a puddle of water.” Do not write, “Patron slipped and fell in a puddle of water”; instead, put it this way, “Patron stated, ‘I slipped and fell in a puddle of water,’” making sure their words appear in quotation marks.
“You never take what the guest said as gospel,” explains Powers, adding that reports should include just the facts, without editorializing or using overly dramatic language.
(See a June Funworld article for more information on guest incident procedures and incident investigation at FECs as well as how to categorize incident severity and engage the injured person: www.IAAPA.org/industry/funworld/2012/ jun/features/GuestIncident.)
Contact Contributing Editor Mike Bederka at mbederka@IAAPA.org.