Flat Freeholder’s Guide to Health & Safety

Flat Freeholder’s Guide to Health & Safety

Flat freeholders, be they freeholders of a single flat, block of flats or a building converted into flats, have legal responsibilities when it comes to Health and Safety, responsibilities that can affect their freeholder’s insurance.  To help freeholders navigate the often tricky world of Health & Safety, 1stsureflats.com – the UK’s leading provider of freeholder insurance and flats insurance – have put together this series of guides for freeholders, guides that will allow you to keep your freeholder insurance valid, avoid nasty accidents and keep you the right side of the Health & Safety rules as they relate to flat freeholders.  This week, slips and trips.

Flat Freeholder’s Guide to Health & Safety: Slips and Trips

Slips and trips are one of the most common causes of non-fatal major injuries, accounting for over half of all reported accidents to members of the public.  The significance of slips and trips to flat freeholders has been emphasised since the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) made it one of the ‘priority areas’ in the Revitalising Health and Safety Programme.  Slips and trips can result in serious injuries and may lead to flat freeholders facing compensation awards.  Effective solutions for flat freeholders are often simple, cheap and easy to implement.

Flat Freeholder’s Guide to Health & Safety: Legislation

Flat freeholders in control of premises have duties under the Occupiers Liability Act 1984.  This states (s2) that the occupier has a ‘common law duty of care’ and then goes on to define that as:

‘A duty to take such care as in the circumstances of the case is reasonable to see that the visitor will be reasonably safe in using the premises for the purposes for which he is invited or permitted by the occupier to be there.’

This clearly extends to the control of slips and trip hazards and so freeholders need to take note.

What Causes People to Slip or Trip in Flats?

Both slips and trips result from some unintended or unexpected change in the contact between the feet and the ground or walking surface.  Research by the HSE has established that the following can contribute to a slip or trip:

  • Flooring
  • Cleaning
  • Contamination
  • Footwear
  • People and Behaviours

Freeholder’s Guide to Flat Health & Safety:  Prevention is Better than Cure

Not all of the above can be controlled or influenced in freehold flats – freeholders can’t always manage people and behaviours, and freeholders, and others in control of property, may not have the opportunity to specify what flooring is installed. But freeholders can minimise contamination and ensure that cleaning procedures are sufficient and suitably frequent to reduce the risk of slipping in their flats.

Risk Assessment on Your Freehold Flats

The first thing that flat freeholders should do is carry out a risk assessment to identify possible slip and trip hazards in their flats. The HSE’s Slip Assessment tool provides invaluable guidance when carrying out an assessment in freehold flats.  The following questions should help you determine if there is a hazard in your flats:

  • Are the floor surfaces in your flats in good condition?
  • Are floors in your flats likely to become wet and slippery?
  • Can floor conditions change quickly e.g. because of a build-up of waste in your flats
  • Do people use unlit or poorly lit paths or yard areas in your flats?
  • Are tripping hazards, such as trailing cables, routed away from walkways or covered/protected in some way?
  • Are spillages in your flats cleaned up as soon as possible?
  • Are cleaning rotas organised to avoid times when a lot of people may be around?
  • Are the cleaning substances used in your flats chosen to reduce risk of slippery surfaces?

The assessment itself should:

  • Look for slip and trip hazards in your flats
  • Decide who might be harmed and how
  • Consider the risks in your flats
  • Ascertain if there are suitable controls in place with the flats or block of flat and if not, determine new or improved controls
  • Implement controls
  • Record findings that occur within your flat and have these findings reviewed on a regular basis

The Surfaces/Flooring within your Flats

When considering new surfaces for your flats/block of flats, the flats freeholder should consider:

  • Specifying non-slip surfaces for the flats/block of flats
  • Ensuring the flats/block of flats design is free from trip hazards

When considering existing surfaces within for your flats/block of flats, the flats freeholder should:

  • Ensure they are kept in good order
  • Promptly repair any damage
  • Secure coverings such as mats, rugs and carpets in the flats and communal areas
  • Establish a suitable cleaning regime within the flats communal areas


When it comes to quick wins for flats freeholders, cleaning is one.  The slip resistance of flooring in flats can be significantly reduced by spillages or ingress of water e.g. rain, ice or snow.  Correct cleaning of flats floors in communal areas at frequent intervals is essential and help avoid accidents, injury claims and rises in freeholder insurance premiums.


In many flats and blocks of flats, contamination of the flooring can lead to a long term reduction in its quality and an increase in the risk of slipping.  The treading in of fat, oil or dirt can reduce the slip resistance of a flat’s floor leading to an increased risk.  Routine cleaning may deal with the day to day spillages etc. but ‘deep cleaning’, using strong cleaning agents and mechanical equipment, may be required at suitable intervals in flats communal areas.


The selection and use of proper footwear can also prove critical, but this is not under the control of the freeholder.

People and Behaviours

This aspect is not under the control of a flat freeholder, but where possible access routes should be planned to avoid areas where slips or trips are expected.


Good housekeeping is the first and most important method of preventing falls due to slips and trips in flats and blocks of flats. It includes:

  • Cleaning all major spills as soon as possible
  • Marking spills and wet areas
  • Mopping spills or sweeping debris from floors
  • Removing obstacles from walking routes
  • Always keeping walking routes free from clutter
  • Covering cables that cross walking routes
  • Promptly replacing broken/defective light bulbs and faulty switches

Without good housekeeping practices, any other preventative measures – such as the installation of sophisticated flooring in your flats or block of flats – will never be fully effective.

Flat Freeholders and the ‘Magic Inch’

Flat freeholder’s and others with responsibility for flats Health & Safety, often ask about the extent to which they might be held liable for an accident that results from a trip on an uneven surface while in their flats or block of flats.  What is the ‘height’ below which a change in level, hole or depression will not render the flat freeholders liable?

Unfortunately the answer is that there is no ‘safe limit’.  Every claim for compensation will be decided on its own merits and the particular circumstances that relate to the accident.  For example, a flooring defect of one inch may not generate liability if it occurred just prior to the accident and there was no possibility of a freeholder detecting it and taking corrective action.  However, a small tripping hazard of lesser size may result in the freeholder being held liable if the hazard had been present for an extended period, if its existence was known and it was located in an area in the flats where people walked regularly.

Flat Freeholders Key Action Steps

If you are the freeholder of flats and have a responsibility for premises then you should do the following:

  • Ensure that any new flooring surfaces in your flats are, as far as is practicable, free from slipping and tripping hazards
  • Conduct routine inspections to ensure all surfaces in your flats are free from slip and trip hazards
  • Ensure that routine maintenance is carried out to remedy defects in your flats
  • Implement a sound housekeeping programme
  • Set up a strategy to ensure that any contamination and spillages in your flats are reported and cleaned up as soon as possible
  • Ensure that cleaning procedures are suitable for dealing with contamination and spillages
  • Establish cleaning rotas and routines that are sufficiently frequent to deal with all expected problems

Hopefully you have found this first part of our ‘Flat Freeholder’s Guide to Health & Safety’ useful.  If you would like any further help or advice regarding freeholder’s obligations or freeholder insurance, then please get in touch and let 1st Sure Flats’ dedicated team help.   You can contact us by calling 0345 370 2842, email us at info@1stsure.com or if you’d like to get a free quote then just click here.