November is Fall Prevention Month. This article outlines safety tips for slip and fall prevention, and highlights property and business owner’s responsibilities, duty of care and potential liability.
Slips, trips and falls can happen to anyone, at any time of the year, but winter ice and snow on sidewalks and pedestrian crosswalks increase the risk of slips and falls substantially. Injuries can range from minor scrapes and fractures to back injuries and head trauma.
According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) statistics, there were nearly 9,000 hospitalizations due to falls on ice in Canada in 2016-2017, making slips and falls the number-one cause of winter injuries.
BC’s varying winter climate of rain and freezing temperatures can create hazardous icy patches and in some areas, these are hidden beneath snow. Last year in BC, there were 7,894 injuries from slips, trips and falls. Slips on stairs and steps alone accounted for 1,594 of these injuries.
After a bout of bad weather, ice-related admissions to hospitals can triple. The most common winter-related slip and fall injuries include muscle sprains, ligament strains, fractures, broken bones (usually the wrists and hips) and herniated discs. However, serious, long-term injures can also occur, such as spinal compression fractures and brain injuries caused by falling on ice and hitting your head.
The elderly are especially vulnerable in the winter months, particularly if their neighbourhood pathways are not properly cleared of ice and snow. For someone in a wheelchair, mobility obstacles are even greater and fear of outdoor falls in icy conditions lead many to be involuntarily homebound.
Hammerberg Lawyers LLP is committed to raising awareness about fall prevention in our communities, and to providing information to help you minimize your risk. Geoff Fernie, Senior Scientist and falls prevention expert at the University Health Network and the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute provides 5 practical ways for seniors to prevent falls which apply equally to everyone:
- Wear safe footwear outdoors to reduce slips.
- Install easily graspable handrails on both sides of your stairs and outdoor steps at home — and use them.
- Change into running shoes after arriving home rather than walking around in socks or bare feet — to help reduce the risk of slipping.
- Buy new winter boots every year to ensure that the treads have maximum slip-resistance and are not worn out.
- Use handrails and grab bars in public spaces and carry a small bottle of hand hygiene gel to use afterward.
While falls can be caused by inattention and/or lack of caution, property owners and occupiers do have responsibilities to keep their premises safe, and owe a duty of care to people on their premises. There are also snow and ice removal bylaws in every BC community which must be followed.
In the City of Vancouver, the owners or occupiers of any property are required to remove snow and ice from any sidewalk adjacent to the property, for the full width of the sidewalk, no later than 10 AM every day. Slips and falls that occur due to a property owner’s failure to adhere to these bylaws could constitute negligence. If injuries are caused by the negligence of another, then you may be entitled to make a claim for damages.
When it comes to the duty to keep premises free of hazards, it is important to remember that “premises” can include homes, cabins, apartment complexes, city property, strata property, grocery stores, concert venues, restaurants, schools, libraries, movie theatres, etc. If an owner or occupier fails to ensure their property is reasonably safe, they have failed in their duty of care. Reasonable care involves a wide range of regular maintenance such as cleaning up spills; repairing defective structures such as handrails, stairs and uneven flooring; and ensuring stairwells are properly lit. Property owners and occupiers may be liable for accidents resulting from unsafe premises that pose an objectively unreasonable risk of harm or injury.
If you or a loved one has been injured in a slip or fall that you believe is the fault of a business or property owner’s negligence, please contact us at 604.269.8500 for a free, confidential consultation. You may be entitled to compensation for your injuries.
For more information about fall prevention, please visit https://www.cihi.ca/en/slips-trips-and-falls-our-newest-data-reveals-causes-of-injury-hospitalizations-and-er-visits-in