Slips, trips and falls are among the most common accidents that cause injuries in the workplace. In fact, these types of incidents are often the leading reasons for injury-related claims from workers and customers alike. Self-storage businesses are susceptible to potential liability in this area due to a combination of steady pedestrian and vehicle traffic, the vast amount of property that must be maintained, and a general lack of supervision. There are also the unknowns that lurk behind tenants’ unit doors.
It’s the operator’s responsibility to ensure the facility environment is consistently safe. With people coming and going sometimes all hours of the day and during all types of weather, this can seem impossible. The best way to reduce the risk of injuries and related liability is to be proactive as well as vigilant in addressing potentially hazardous situations. Let’s examine a few important ways to maintain safety while lowering the likelihood of grievances from employees, customers and the public.
You or a member of your team should regularly inspect every square foot of your self-storage property. Walk the entire premises methodically, with a clipboard and camera at the ready, to identify and document areas of concern. Your objective should be to discover potential problems and implement a course of action to remedy each. Weekly is a good goal, but additional reviews could be required due to changes in weather, traffic, etc.
Here are some areas on which to focus:
Entrances and exits. Make sure these are well-lit, easily identifiable and boldly marked. Install non-slip rugs. Clear these areas of debris or anything that may hinder their use. Ensure your exit signs and lighting are equipped with a battery backup.
Common areas. Check the lobby, hallways and any other shared areas to ensure they’re clean and free of debris that could cause someone to slip, trip or fall. Inspect the floors, walls and ceilings, looking for buckling, cracking, loose tiles and any signs of wear or damage. Handrails, bannisters, doors and windows should be secure and in safe, worker order.
Restroom. Inspect the condition of all toilets and sinks. Look and listen for signs of leaks as well as dripping or running water. Ensure all shut-off valves are working and easily accessible. Inspect all handicap-accessible handrails and supports to ensure they’re stable and secure.
Pavement. Inspect all drive aisles customers use to access their units as well as any walkways and parking lots that may be accessible to the public. Look for cracks, buckling, potholes, dips, loose stones, debris, oil, standing water, foreign substances, etc. Ensure all corners and curves are well-lit and marked with caution and stop signs as needed. If possible, install weatherproof traffic mirrors to provide additional viewing around corners and blind spots.
Signage. Use caution and warning signs to identify problem areas of the property. These might include wet floors or pavement, loose floor tiles, ice patches, rough building edges, detached gutters, and others. Any hazardous situations should be addressed immediately—no delays or excuses. They should be clearly marked with a brightly colored, easy-to-read sign approved by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Fire-prevention equipment. Fire extinguishers (inspected and up to code) should be strategically positioned throughout the premises for quick access. Smoke detectors and alarms should be installed throughout the business and in all storage spaces. “No Smoking” signs and warnings against storing flammable substances should be highly visible and positioned throughout the facility.
Sprinklers. You need to inspect your system periodically to ensure the heads are working. Water pressure and direction should be checked. Tenants should be warned against impeding sprinkler heads with items like boxes and mattresses, or hanging possessions on pipes.
Maintenance supplies. All cleaning supplies, such as bleach, degreasers, brooms, mops, etc., and any tools should be in a locked room and inaccessible to customers. In the event of a spill, your team must act promptly, marking and identifying the area of concern.
Electrical equipment. Inspect every area of the business to ensure all extension and power cords are away from foot traffic and out of customer reach. This includes cords used for fans and appliances, as well as phone and Internet cables. When possible, run these under rugs or tape them to floors.
Empty units. These should be locked to prevent unauthorized use. Use uniquely numbered and labeled locks to easily identify the ones that are yours. These spaces should also be inspected regularly to ensure no one has accessed them. Look for signs of damage to walls and ceilings as well as debris.
Surveillance cameras. The cost of installing and maintaining a cloud-based security system has dropped significantly in the last few years. Cameras should be strategically positioned throughout your facility to capture and record all activity. The very presence of such devices are a proven deterrent against fraudulent injury claims.
First aid. A medical-grade kit should be kept on the premises and easily accessible. Where possible, a defibrillator should be readily available, with staff members trained on the safe and proper operation of the device.
Maintain detailed records of your self-storage site inspections and all maintenance performed. These will be part of your defense in the event an injury claim from a customer or employee. Document the date and time of any work performed, using pictures and video to demonstrate the before-and-after sequence and any actions taken. If a situation presents itself despite your best efforts to prevent it, the fact that you developed, initiated and maintained a program of preventive maintenance could help minimize and scope of any claims that arise against you and your business.
Jenny Bortman is vice president at Universal Insurance Programs, which has created and provided specialized insurance coverages to the self-storage industry for more than 20 years. For more information, call 602.222.8300; visit https://uiprograms.com.