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Avoiding costly slips and falls with cautious steps

September 19, 2010
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A visitor to a business in Virginia slips and falls on a wet floor and is then awarded $225,000 by a Fairfax County jury after the business’ owners are found negligent for not setting up warning signs about the potential danger.

Thousands of miles away, a jury in California awards $265,000 to a shopper who sustains a knee injury as a result of a slip-and-fall caused by improperly cleaned aisles in a supermarket near San Francisco.

As these two costly verdicts show, slips and falls can occur anywhere.
However, many of them can be easily prevented by taking advantage of various modern floor mats that promote safety.

Strategic planning with mats
Modern-day floor mats act like “invisible janitors” to prevent hazards.

The secret to the safety that today’s floor mats provide is their scientific designs.

For example, scraper mats, which are typically placed near outdoor/indoor entranceways, are made with molded and raised bi-directional cleats which literally grab and transport slippery liquid and dirt beneath their surfaces.

And, comfort mats, which are placed wherever accidental liquid spills might occur, take advantage of hundreds of funnel eyelets that quickly transport slippery elements beneath their surfaces.

Fit your particular need
When Henry Ford introduced his Model T, he said customers could order the vehicle in any color they wanted — as long as it was black.

And, that was also the traditional floor mat motto, until recently; modern floor mats are now available in many models, styles, sizes and colors for targeted uses around buildings.

When combined — in order to take advantage of their respective designs — these mats help create a complete “three-step floor care safety system” that can prevent dirt, grit and moisture from turning floor areas into dangerous “skating rinks.”

Step one
The secret behind an effective “floor care safety system” that contemporary mats provide can be found in their individual, functional designs — the most evident of which is featured in scraper mats, which represent step one of “the system.”

Scraper mats are designed to be placed outside a building’s entranceways.

With their noticeably heavy-duty, cross-patterned cleat construction, scraper mats remove a significant amount of dirt and water.

Step two
Designed to work in concert with these outside products are walk-off mats.

Walk-off mats are placed inside of entranceways to remove any residual soil missed by the scraper mats.

As with today’s automobiles, safety-conscious building owners can now choosewalk-off mats in an array of décor-enhancing colors and can even customize them with company logos or messages, in virtually any design or color scheme.

Some enterprises require polished surfaces, such as in lobby areas, for aesthetic reasons.

In such instances, today’s designer-type walk-off mats can perform double-duty.

Furthermore, as studies by the National Safety Council have shown, changes in floor coloring or covering can help people to distinguish level changes in walk areas and, in turn, help prevent slips and falls.

This is a safety/behavioral feature that today’s colorful walk-off mats can also provide.

Step three
Wet-area floor mats represent step three of present-day floor care safety systems and are aimed at providing the utmost in walking safety whenever interior spills can be anticipated.

Likely areas for use of such mats are places where water, ice or drink dispensers are located.

Featuring hundreds of evenly aligned funneling holes, wet-area mats are designed to dispense slippery liquids beneath their surfaces where they can evaporate and not present a safety hazard.

As an additional benefit, they also have anti-fatigue qualities for employees who stand for lengthy periods of time.

Where to place floor mats will often be obvious.

As noted previously, all entranceways and areas subject to accidental spills fall into this category.

But there may be areas that can go initially unnoticed.

Study the foot traffic
A traffic pattern study of a facility can prove to be valuable.

Studying traffic patterns is usually best done by observing from afar.

Doing so eliminates the possibility of being distracted by individuals and allows the observer to focus solely on movement.

This information can then be combined with any statistics about previous slips and falls so that a more accurate analysis can be made as to where safety floor mats should be placed.

Despite their proven effectiveness, it’s obviously impractical to place mats over every square foot of a facility’s walking surfaces.

That’s why safety-conscious building owners and managers need to augment their mat programs with modern wet and dry mop products.

Modern mops
Just like floor mats, today’s mopping products have undergone a positive transformation and are manufactured with both synthetic and natural fibers in order to give them super absorbency characteristics, along with the ability to withstand the roughest walkway surfaces.

As an added benefit, today’s mopping products have ergonomic design features.

Still, in order for any floor care safety system to be truly effective, it must be maintained on a year-round basis.

If you start a floor care safety program and then ignore or forget to accompany the maintenance needs, it will simply delay, rather than eliminate, dangerous slips and falls.

That’s where a facility services vendor can be beneficial.

Such vendors routinely clean and/or replace all mat and mopping products so that they’re consistently functioning with maximum usefulness.

Building owners or managers who might dismiss the possibility of ever facing an expensive slip-and-fall suit, should consider that the Consumer Product Safety Commission says more than 1 million people seek medical attention from hospital emergency rooms each year due to such accidents.

And, the National Safety Council estimates workers’ compensation and medical costs associated with slip-and-fall accidents amount to nearly $70 billion each year.

Ultimately, the best way to avoid liability and lawsuits is to keep slip-and-fall accidents from happening in the first place.

Not only can a floor care safety system help in this respect, it can also serve as a vital tool in helping to protect facilities against frivolous or unwarranted litigation.

Adam Siegel, a 20-year veteran of the facility services industry, is manager of business development for UniFirst Corporation ( Siegel is active in the International Facility Management Association (IFMA), the International Sanitary Supply Association (ISSA), the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) and the American Society for Healthcare Environmental Services (ASHES).
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