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Preventing Slip-and-Fall Accidents - Assessing floors for safety

Written by  Debby Davis

There are five factors that need to be considered when assessing floor safety:

1. Traffic
2. Soiling
3. Footwear
4. Slip resistance
5. Cleaning and maintenance

When assessing how safe a floor is, it is important to know that these factors are all interrelated, and if one or two of the factors are not properly addressed—for instance, the floor is not appropriately cleaned and maintained to address the type of soiling it receives—an accident may occur. However, it can be assumed that as more factors are not addressed, the likelihood of a slip-and-fall accident is increased.

Consider floor activity
Let’s assume we have two different floors. One is a walkway in a medical building that serves about 100 people a day. The other is a walkway in a train station that serves about 2,000 people a day. In the medical building, people typically walk slowly and many are wearing sports shoes or footwear with a fairly solid grip. Typically, they continue down the walkway on a steady path and turn only when they reach their destination or to turn into another hallway. However, in the train station, most walkers are going to work in a rush—many are even running—and most wear dress shoes that have little or no traction. Further, they may have to start and stop, depending on traffic, and make sudden turns in order to avoid running into someone.

In these scenarios, it becomes fairly clear that the slip resistance needs of the medical building are considerably less than those of the train station floor. The train station floor will require the use of a floor finish with greater slip resistance (referred to as coefficient of friction). Further, as mentioned previously, because these factors are interrelated, concerns about the soiling on the train station floor, how it is cleaned and maintained, as well as the durability of the floor finish would also be key factors that must be considered.

Floor soiling
We can assume that if grease, oil, and moisture are commonly walked onto a floor on a regular basis, the likelihood of a slip-and-fall accident would increase. In such cases, more attention to the slip resistance of the finish as well as the cleaning and maintenance of the floor would be necessary. But what if two floors receive mostly dry soiling—dust, gravel, light debris, etc.—but one floor receives considerably more dry soiling than the other? In general, the presence of more dry soiling will increase the likelihood of a slip-and-fall accident because the dry soil, as it builds up, can have a lubricating effect on the floor. And in some cases, the finer the dry soiling, the more it can mar the finish and further reduce friction on the floor. In such situations, the way to prevent slip-and-fall accidents would likely include a combination of things: using a finish with a higher slip resistance, increasing floor cleaning frequencies, considering the use of a backpack vacuum cleaner to ensure dry soil is fully removed; and in a worst case scenario, blocking the floor until it can be effectively cleaned and be made safe.

Floors and footwear
Unfortunately for property managers and cleaning professionals, the type of footwear worn by the people walking on a floor is often beyond their control. However, should a slip-and-fall accident occur, the manager or cleaning crew often will be blamed. In order to keep the floor safe for all types of footwear, other factors—such as how well the floor is cleaned and maintained, how the floor is used, and the durability and slip resistance of the floor finish—must be addressed.

Slip resistance and durability
Floor finishes are certainly not all the same, and some will prove more durable—and slip resistant—over time than others. Many of the factors already discussed, such as foot traffic and soiling, will impact the durability of the finish. What is more important for managers and cleaning professionals to know is that the slip-resistance properties of the finish can change over time. This is especially true at key entrances to a floor because they usually receive the largest amount of foot traffic and are the first floor surfaces encountered when walking into the facility from the outside. Floors need to be monitored accordingly, and scrubbing and recoating frequencies may need to be increased in these areas.

Cleaning and maintenance
Without question, proper cleaning and maintenance are key considerations when it comes to improving floor safety. The chemicals used to clean and maintain the floor must be those recommended for that type of surface. A chemical or finish used for a VCT (vinyl composition tile) floor, for instance, may not be the right chemical/finish to use on a stone floor and could increase the chances of an accident.

The actual equipment and procedures also play a crucial role. We have already mentioned that it is preferable, where possible, to use a backpack vacuum cleaner to more effectively remove soils from floors, especially dry soils that can get lodged in tile and grout pores. However, it is also advised to use mechanical floor cleaning systems, such as automatic scrubbers, instead of mopping floors, which can leave a residue or film on a floor that can contribute to a slip-and-fall accident. An automatic scrubber agitates, cleans, and dries the floor all in one process. Some systems are relatively small multi-wash machines that can be used on both carpets and hard surface floors. However, some of the most common automatic scrubbers that work in most settings are walk-behinds with either a 14-, 17- or 20-inch cleaning path.

A final issue that should also be addressed is proper training. There have been cases where a floor has been well maintained by well-trained cleaning professionals using the right chemicals and finishes, and few if any accidents were experienced. But when there is a change of personnel and a less trained cleaning worker takes over, this is when accidents often occur. Regardless of a floor’s safety assessment, cleaning workers have a critical role to play in preventing slip-and-fall accidents. They must be proficient in floor care and up-to-date on the most effective floor care methods so that floors can be clean, and most of all, safe.

Debby Davis is a floor care expert and an industry veteran. She is currently product manager for Powr-Flite, a leading manufacturer of floor care equipment.

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