NASHVILLE, Ga. -- A new electronic "slip and fall" protection system has helped the 45-store Harveys Supermarkets chain here reduce incidents by 15% and reduce average payouts on claims by 72%.
The system makes use of a wireless electronic device supermarket personnel use to "make the rounds" in their stores, routinely checking traditional "hot spots" where spills or other obstacles might cause customers to fall.
While the system goes a long way in just ensuring that potential hazards are spotted before accidents happen, it also provides valuable electronic documentation should legal proceedings ensue.
It all started when Joe Alford became director of loss prevention for Harveys a few years ago and he recognized he had a problem in this area.
Liability claims arising from "slip and fall" incidents were costing the chain much more money than it should have.
While he won't say exactly how bad the problem was, he admits that the loss numbers "far exceeded the Food Marketing Institute's national average, based on number of sales and number of stores."
On the other hand, he was convinced that something could be done to curtail the problem. For one thing, the problem was fairly concentrated, with 16 of his stores accounting for 88 percent of the losses.
Obviously, at least for those locations, the usual safety walks and paper logs that are supposed to document their completion were doing little if any good.
Alford and the rest of Harvey's management had little means to monitor or enforce compliance with whatever procedures were in place.
"I was convinced we had to do something different even if it was wrong," he said.
Working with his insurance brokers, he decided to pursue the high-tech route in solving the problem: installing a new loss prevention system in the 16 "problem stores."
Now, he said, in just over a year and a half, the number of slip and fall claims is down by 15%.
In addition, a huge reduction in the average payout for these claims means that overall losses for his firm have been lowered by 72%.
The new system, Gleason ESP, an "electronic slip/fall protection system" patented by the Gleason Group, a Johnstown, Pa.-based insurance broker, is essentially a computerized, data-retaining version of the old "night watchman" key station concept that has been around the security business for years.
But this system, through which store management and personnel create a database documenting hourly walk-throughs, is a lot more sophisticated than its precursors.
In addition to improving safety and giving management a tool to monitor whether safety procedures are in fact being followed, ESP -- by creating an authoritative paperless record of these inspections and their results -- "gives our attorneys something to fight with," Alford said.
The system, whereby the designated "walker" navigates a predetermined route, and takes an individualized probe and pushes a button at preset points, is "more sophisticated from the standpoint of reporting, showing not only that [the walkers] were there, but also if they found something," he notes.
"The first thing the judges ask for are our 'sweep' records," he said. "And most of the judges around here won't take paper logs."
With this system, he explained, the manager who conducted the inspection can easily defend against a liability claim by proving the area was free of hazard only a short time before the accident.
"We can tell them that it was only 15 minutes since we last inspected the area," Alford said.
In addition, Alford and industry experts agree, being able to put together a fact-based defense is one of the best ways to fend off possible fraudulent claims.
"We think the number of fraudulent claims has been greatly reduced," said Alford. "They just kind of go away in the night.
"We were one of the first firms to install the system [in November 1999], and we are in the process of expanding it to include the rest of our stores."
While Charlie Napier, Alford's loss prevention counterpart at the 12-store Foodmaster Supermarkets, Chelsea, Mass., admits it's "too early to tell" the extent to which the Gleason ESP his firm installed in December 2000 has saved him money, he said he already feels "very good" about it.