How Facilities Maintenance Helps Prevent Injuries and Potential Lawsuits
Walking campus with a fresh set eyes and a checklist might be one of the most important things your team does this week. You’re on the lookout for any hazard that could cause someone to slip and fall. What you discover could help reducing the chance of injuries and costly lawsuits, not only from students and faculty, but the thousands of visitors to your campus each year.
Slip and fall Injuries can range from minor to severe, everything from a twisted ankle to a broken hip, which can be a life changing event. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, unintentional falls account for more than 5 million emergency room visits every year, with average medical costs of more than $8,500 per injury.*
But some injuries can come back on your organization to try to prove some sort of fault, such as negligence. And with negligence, a lawsuit can drive up the cost of an injury. Lapses in maintenance like failing to clear snow from sidewalks, parking lots, or access ramps or inadequate lighting in parking lots or stairways can be used in a negligence lawsuit. Defending your organization can take a toll on your finances.
Make sure to walk all areas of campus both during daylight hours and after dark.
When an issue is identified, it should be fixed quickly and completely. An injured person may try to claim negligence if the college knew about a safety issue and did nothing about it, or if there was just a quick fix. Any actions you take—or don’t take—may form a picture of your organization’s level of commitment to safety. You want to be able to show that you made an appropriate attempt to fix known issues.
Areas where falls are more common include parking lots, stairways, ramps, entrances, doorways, and transitions between two different surface heights. “Facilities maintenance plays an important role in minimizing injuries. Some of the biggest issues are poor lighting, inadequate signage, and lack of snow and ice removal,” said Kay Landwehr, a litigation specialist in casualty claims at Brotherhood Mutual.
Also, don’t forget to think about special circumstances. For example, will a construction project require temporary changes to traffic flow? “Students will take the shortest route. If you’re going to make a temporary path for vehicles, make sure it’s clearly marked to avoid mixing pedestrians with cars,” noted Landwehr.
Another item to consider is a way for people to quickly summon emergency help. Consider the number and location of emergency call stations throughout campus to provide an additional method of getting help.
If you’d like a fresh set of eyes to help you walk your property, ask local first responders or call your insurance company. They may be able to walk your property with you to help identify areas for improvement.
3 Things You Can Do This Week
Paint. Paint concrete parking bumpers bright yellow to increase visibility. Paint a yellow strip on step and curb edges. Check with your local street department for any applicable code requirements before painting.
Make sure you’re ADA compliant. Areas outside buildings, like access ramps and parking lots, also require special attention for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Ramps and stairs have specific requirements to be compliant with the law. For example, handrails must be a certain diameter, distance from wall, and height from walking surface. Ramps must have a specific slope. Parking lots should accommodate handicap accessible spaces, which have specific requirements, such as width, placement, signage, and walking space. Visit ADA.Gov to make sure all areas of your campus are compliant.
Create a maintenance log. It’s important to show consistency. Develop protocols for how you document maintenance, like the date and time you cleared sidewalks of snow or plowed lots. Make sure the logs are getting used.
It’s important to think about how others use your campus. Whenever an outside organization uses your facilities for an event, they should sign a facility use agreement. A robust agreement helps protect both parties. Knowing what parameters you can set—and which ones you should avoid—can decrease your risk. It also will be helpful to consider how facility use can impact whether you’re considered a place of public accommodation. Check out the related resource below to learn more.
The information provided in this article is intended to be helpful, but it does not constitute legal advice and is not a substitute for the advice from a licensed attorney in your area. We strongly encourage you to regularly consult with a local attorney as part of your risk management program. Your organization is responsible for compliance with all applicable laws.
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