The Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) is a government standard for conducting risk assessments in rental properties. And, as of 20th March 2019, the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 has made the HHSRS a focus in keeping homes safe for all.
We’ve been looking at the hazards identified under the HHSRS, and in this guide, we’re looking at a few similar potential trips and falls rolled into one. This guide includes:
19. Falls associated with baths etc
20. Falling on level surfaces
21. Falling on stairs
22. Falling between levels
In short, we’re looking at the trip and fall hazards around the average rental property, as identified by the HHSRS.
What are the health risks associated with fall and trip hazards?
What are the causes of fall and trip hazards in a property?
What can you do as a landlord to minimise exposure to fall and trip hazards?
As always, our guides do not constitute legal advice. So if you have any questions around making sure your property is fit for human habitation, please consult a professional.
What are the health risks around fall and trip hazards?
According to the NHS, around 1 in 3 adults over 65 will have at least one fall in the home per year. Although it can happen to anyone, it is the more vulnerable who are at risk, especially the elderly, the very young, the infirm or those with disabilities.
Falls in the home from unadjusted hazards are estimated to cost the NHS in England around £435 million per year. And, aside from the financial cost, there is, of course, the cost to health.
Injuries from falling are actually the biggest cause of injury and the ninth biggest cause of disability adjusted life years (DALY) in the UK. What this means is that for each year someone lives with the burden of an injury, they are losing the equivalent time in good health.
Some of the main injuries identified by falling within the HHSRS legislation include:
• Cuts and lacerations
• Bone fractures
• Head, brain and spinal injuries
• Potential death from impact or falling
And, although the worst case scenario of death might not be the first thing that springs to mind with tripping over in the corridor, some of the long term issues as a result of a fall can also be:
• Cardio-respiratory problems
• Heart attacks
Although these issues are more common in older tenants, no one is immune from trip hazards. It could be a hyperactive toddler, an intoxicated young person or simply someone tired after a hard day’s work who loses their footing.
What are the causes of fall and trip hazards in property?
Trips and falls can happen anywhere and on any surface. However, under the HHSRS, there are several key causes of trip and fall hazards.
• Baths and showers
• Moving from one level to another (steps)
• Uneven floors, paths, yards or ramps
• Falls on stairs or fire escapes
• Falls from levels such as balconies, windows, accessible roofs, and balustrades - where the change in level is over 300mm
• Falls from other levels not served by steps, such as basement wells, garden walls or galleried rooms - where the change in level is over 300mm
These are of course the structural trip and fall hazards, which fall under the remit of the landlord or agent. When it comes to other hazards such as discarded roller skates, banana skins or a freshly polished floor and smooth-heeled slippers, these fall under the remit of the tenant.
With regards to the trip hazards identified by the HHSRS risk assessment, the physical condition of the property is one of the main factors. However, trip hazards can also come about as a result of other environmental issues, including:
• Unsecured rugs or carpets
• Poor lighting
• Floorboards and stairs in poor condition
• Leaks and puddles as a result of broken seals or damage to the property
These are partly the responsibility of the tenant, but can also be managed by letting agents or landlords.
How to minimise fall and trip hazards?
If your property is subject to a risk assessment, using the HHSRS guidelines, the inspector will look at features such as the condition of flooring, angle and condition of stairs, amount of natural light or state of lighting, access to handrails and state of carpet or lino. These are some common ways to minimise slip hazards around the home.
Slips in the bath and shower are a major issue for tenants. Puddles or slippery flooring are also big problems, especially for vulnerable and elderly tenants.
To minimise the chances of injuries in the bathroom:
• Check seals on baths and showers to avoid leaks
• Install handrails in shower areas and bathtubs
• Provide non-slip mats
• Ensure adequate lighting is present and light switches are accessible
Stairs and Steps
The angle and condition of stairs and steps can be a major factor in avoiding slips and falls, consider:
• The height, length, and variation of the steps
• The length of the nosing on the steps
• If the stairs are carpeted, how secure is it on the stairs?
• The condition of the stairs, e.g. are they damaged, creaky, slippery?
• The amount of lighting on the stairs
• Accessibility of handrails and banisters
External flooring and paving
For property with external features such as gardens, yards or other surfaces which could cause a trip hazard, keep an eye on:
• Loose paving slabs
• Cracks in paving or flooring
• Uneven flooring
• Other slip hazards such as leaks, build-ups of leaves in autumn, growth of algae in shaded areas, or mud
• Adequate lighting where necessary
Changes in levles
Certain features of a property can cause a hazard, even if they do look nice. Think mezzanines, balconies, roof gardens, and terraced gardens. Some of these offer fall and trip hazards by their very nature and can be tricky to minimise the potential dangers.
Some ways to minimise the potential hazards around falls from heights or levels include:
• Secure railings or balustrades
• Signposting or highlighting sharp drops
• Highlighting drops with additional lighting
Other rooms and trip hazards
As mentioned, there’s not much you can do as a landlord or letting agent if your tenant lives in a cluttered home with dangers left, right and centre. Trailing cables, poorly fixed rugs and badly situated furniture are always a hazard. Your tenancy agreement will likely make a mention that property should be kept clean and safe, and if you conduct regular inspections then you may be able to keep an eye out for potential dangers with regards to health and safety.
When conducting a risk assessment yourself, keep an eye out for issues such as a lack of plug sockets. This could cause trailing extension cables across floors and therefore, a risk of tripping and falling.
Lighting crops up as a feature that can be used to minimise trip and fall hazards, so make sure your lighting is up to the job. Adequate illumination, either natural or of the correct wattage will minimise falls and slips by providing sufficient visibility for your tenants.
Tiles, lino, and vinyl flooring can all be a source of trip hazards. So keep an eye out for wear and tear in synthetic floors, or cracks and damage in stone, concrete or slate floors. Pay special attention to mildew and algae growth in outdoor areas during rainy seasons.
The Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018 imposes a requirement on rental properties to be fit for habitation in its entire lease period. Failure to comply may not only be costly but can also cause serious personal injuries to your tenants. Lettings agents are advised to proactively inspect properties for risks for trips and falls, and other identified hazards under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS).