Although most supermarkets strive to maintain a clean, safe environment through routine inspection practices, many are leaving themselves vulnerable to slip/fall liability claims by not maintaining consistent records of their efforts. Moreover, a lack of solid data on a store's hazard management practices handicaps its ability to improve its safety performance.

These are among the conclusions of a research study conducted recently among those responsible for safety and risk management in supermarkets. The study, possibly the first of its kind, was conducted by the Gleason Group of Johnstown, Pa., and shared at the National Grocers Association convention held here this week.

Key findings of the research include:

  • While most risk managers say they use written sweep/aisle walk logs to monitor the condition of their floors, 40% consider them to be less than accurate.
  • When there are spills and subsequent clean-up, the amount of detail recorded varies by store.
  • The frequency with which logs are verified by managers varies considerably.
  • Three out of four respondents who maintain logs use them when adjusting slip/fall liability claims, underscoring their importance to the retailer.

The Gleason Group, one of only six major insurance brokers with expertise in the food industry, conducted the study to assess the state of slip/fall monitoring and documentation practices in the United States and to gain a better understanding of safety and risk management needs in the supermarket/grocery industry.

"Grocery retailers are not adequately documenting their efforts to protect their customers and employees from costly slip and fall incidents," concluded Robert A. Gleason, Jr., chairman and CEO of the Gleason Group. A champion of rigorous floor monitoring since its Food Division was formed 20 years ago, Gleason warns that the failure to maintain that environment will eventually affect a store's bottom line.

Current System Has Flaws

Seven out of ten stores surveyed reported using sweep/aisle walk logs in their stores. These are hand-written logs that employees prepare when they have walked or swept the store aisles to monitor slip and fall hazards. Of the stores using written logs, 40% consider their records to be somewhat or not very accurate, although 11% of respondents perceive their records to be extremely accurate and 49% perceive their systems to be very accurate.

"If stores use this practice to create a hazard-free environment for their customers, the documentation should reflect their efforts," said Gleason.

The amount of detail recorded varies by store - 43% note the type of hazards that exist (wet spills, dry spills, etc.), while 54% do not keep such detail or don't know.

"It's important to record the type and location of the hazards being discovered," noted Gleason. "There's a two-fold purpose for tracking slip and fall hazards throughout a store. One is to protect the store against costly slip and fall claims. But also, by noting the cause of slip and fall hazards, the safety manager can then target those areas to create the safest environment for the customers. This research shows that the paper logs are not adequately doing the job in either case."

A Better Method

After years of trying to discipline its clients to keep good written records, the Gleason Group recently addressed the inadequacy of paper logs by developing GleasonESP(TM) (Electronic Slip/Fall Prevention System). Gleason was granted a U.S. patent last year for GleasonESP (U.S. patent 6,078,255) - the first floor safety inspection system to use computer technology to document walk-around inspection tours by employees and report the results remotely. Its electronic record-keeping network produces a paperless database that greatly improves slip/fall loss management and prevention in supermarkets.

Current Monitoring Is Inadequate

According to Gleason's study, the frequency with which management verifies the completeness of the walk logs also varies widely. Less than half verify the logs daily (46%), and other managers only verify the logs weekly (40%), monthly (11%) or less than monthly (3%).

"It's remarkable that as many as 40% of those responsible for the safety of their store are checking those logs only once per week," said Gleason. "The completeness of the logs is critical but most managers don't have time to do it. Our electronic system relieves the manager of having to constantly verify the completeness of paper logs, because it logs the data in real time and then provides a detailed analysis to the store."

Most stores perform regular walks to monitor the safety of the aisles, but the frequency of these walks varies: 61% have their aisles walked at least every hour; 11% every two hours; 11% every three hours.

"We tell our customers to perform the walks every hour," said Gleason. "Doing them less frequently will compromise the effectiveness of the program. Specifically, the presumption of 'notice' of the hazard will come into play, the cleanliness and safety of the store will suffer and the number and cost of claims will increase.'"

Insurance Administrators Must Be Involved

Three out of four respondents indicated that they use the logs for adjusting claims, and 88% say that their insurance administrator has access to their log records. Most respondents indicated that they keep the log reports for more than three years (46%), but a significant number only keep the logs from one to three years (29%), or less than a year (23%).

"Insurance administrators should always have quick access to those records. The records, and all the facts surrounding them, should be kept for at least six months beyond the state statute of limitations," said Gleason. "Stores might be discarding their records because the paper is taking up too much room."

The GleasonESP system eliminates this problem because the data is stored remotely by the Gleason Group and is available for up to seven years.

The Gleason Group, with headquarters in Johnstown, Pa., has more than 75 years of experience in the insurance business. Gleason pioneered its specialized food industry division 20 years ago when it began to customize insurance programs for supermarket and grocery chains. Today, the Gleason Food Group is the only major insurance broker with a specialty in the food industry. For more information, visit www.gleasonagency.com.