When working in a client’s facility, where do you think the most likely area for a cleaning worker to have a slip, trip, or fall would be? In the restroom? In the kitchen? Outside while carrying trash to a dumpster?
The answer is actually none of these.
While a fall may occur in any of those locations, according to the National Safety Council (NSC) the most common place for a slip, trip, or fall to occur is at the doorway as soon as you walk into the building. And if you are walking into a dark or dimly lit property afterhours, the risk of a fall is even greater.
Indeed, falls are one of the leading causes of unintentional injury in the United States. According to the NSC, there were nearly 8 million visits to hospital emergency rooms as a result of falls in 2008. Worse yet, falls are now the second-leading cause of unintentional death in the United States, resulting in more than 25,000 fatalities in 2009.
As we get older, the risk of a slip or fall increases. Right now in this country, persons aged 65 years or older number about 40 million, representing approximately 13 percent of the U.S. population. However, by 2030 the number of those over 65 is expected to reach 72.1 million, which is more than twice their number in 2000.
It is likely because of these statistics that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) released a new set of floor safety guidelines in late summer 2013. These guidelines, which will be finalized in 2014, include some fairly significant changes that are going to impact building service contractors as well as their customers. Ultimately the goal is to raise the bar for safety, inspection, and overall floor care, so building users and cleaning workers will be less likely to experience a slip, trip, or fall.
Walking and Working Surfaces
The new guidelines are part of the Walking and Working Surfaces (29 CFR Part 1910) document that was originally developed in the 1980s. The document is designed to create industry standards for employers to follow that “protect employees from slips, falls, and trips.” While the initial rules have long been considered extensive and comprehensive, it is the growing number of workplace-related falls and injuries that prompted OSHA to generate revised requirements.
Russell Kendzoir, president and founder of the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI), says that when developing the new guidelines OSHA held hearings and conducted extensive research into slip and fall issues, looking for ways to help protect workers. It also consulted with organizations such as the National Bureau of Standards (now the National Institute of Standards and Technology) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). These studies and consultations informed OSHA’s new set of revisions, which will most impact BSCs and their customers. The revisions include the following stipulations:
- An effective housekeeping program that includes floor-care maintenance is needed and must be implemented. This means that BSCs may need to hold, or have their staff attend, educational and training programs that address floor-care cleaning and maintenance issues.
- The new rules require a qualified person to inspect, maintain, and repair workplace floors. A qualified floor inspector is defined by OSHA as someone “capable of identifying existing or potential hazards in specific surroundings or detecting working conditions that may be hazardous or dangerous to employees, and one who has been trained for the specific task assigned.”
Qualified Floor Inspectors
Of course, for many BSCs and their customers, retaining a qualified floor inspector may be something entirely new, possibly even unheard of. However, there is an entire profession, along with schools throughout the United States, dedicated to training people for this position.
Frequently, qualified floor inspectors are called in after a slip, trip, or fall has occurred—as expert witnesses, often to testify in trials or when the accident has resulted in litigation. Now, with the new OSHA guidelines, they will be called in before an accident occurs, in hopes of preventing a fall from happening in the first place.
The inspectors will be looking to verify the floor meets the guidelines of a “high-traction floor.” According to Kendzoir, a high-traction floor refers to the physical property of a floor or walkway “that is designed to mitigate slipping during normal ambulation by providing a reasonable sufficient level of available contact friction.”
Here, “ambulation” simply refers to the act of walking from place to place. What is a bit more complicated to understand is that in order for a floor surface to meet high-traction standards, it must have a wet static coefficient of friction (SCOF) of 0.60 or greater or a wet dynamic coefficient of friction (DCOF) of 0.42 or greater.
A slip or fall typically occurs when the coefficient of friction between someone’s shoe and the walking surface does not provide sufficient resistance to counteract the forward motion of movement. This happens most often on wet surfaces.
SCOF describes the amount of force required to cause an object such as a shoe to start moving across a surface. A higher coefficient indicates increased resistance of the shoe sole to the flooring surface, diminishing the likelihood of a slip or fall.
DCOF differs from SCOF in that the shoe material moving across the flooring surface and its resistance to movement is constantly recorded and averaged. A DCOF rating tends to be more precise than a SCOF rating.*
Floor Care Tools and Equipment
For BSCs, in addition to establishing floor-care training and education, the new OSHA mandates require more due diligence in evaluating a specific floor’s cleaning and maintenance needs. This includes choosing floor-care products and equipment that can help ensure the floor will be approved by an inspector and will be effective at preventing a fall. For instance, many floor finishes are called “slip resistant.” These finishes have a SCOF of 0.50. For a finish to meet high-traction standards, however, it must have a SCOF of 0.60, as discussed earlier.
According to Daniel Frimml, a Technical Service Coordinator for Tornado Industries, BSCs are advised to update their floor-care equipment: “Many floor machines—including scrubbers, burnishers, and even buffers—are designed to last many years,” he says. “However, newer machines have been developed with advanced technologies that address global user standards as to durability and performance and that help meet the increasing demands for floor safety.”
Some systems also use cylindrical brush technology, and instead of pads that rotate, these machines use counter-rotating brushes that have as much as four to six times more contact with the floor. “This means they are more able to safely dig deeper into floors and grout areas, removing soil, grease, oil, and other contaminants that can build up and potentially cause a slip or fall accident,” says Frimml.
While the new OSHA floor care guidelines may require many BSCs to make changes in their floor care programs, the guidelines also offer new opportunities. Some BSCs are enrolling in floor-care certification programs offered by NFSI and other organizations. Being certified as a floor-care safety expert indicates to customers that not only are you an expert on floor safety, but you’re most likely very well trained on many aspects of cleaning and building maintenance. This puts you a step or two ahead of your competitors, which is always a good place to be.